Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: What is it? | MedStar Health

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MedStar Health is home to accomplished, experienced spinal surgeons who will work with you every step of the way to find the most effective solutions for your pain. We help you understand the risks and benefits of all your treatment options so you can make the most informed and appropriate decisions. Whenever we can, we recommend non-surgical treatment to manage your condition, like physical therapy or lifestyle changes. If you do need surgery, we specialize in the most advanced surgical methods, including minimally invasive decompression surgery for the treatment of spinal stenosis.

What is lumbar stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the bones that make up the spine tighten around the spinal nerves, reducing the cushioning space between them and putting too much pressure on the spinal nerves. When this occurs in the lower portion of the spine, also known as the lumbar region, the condition is called lumbar stenosis, or lumbar spinal stenosis.

What are the causes?

This condition may be caused by any of the following issues:

  • Arthritis

  • Natural wear and tear of aging

  • Back problems or irregularities at birth

What are the risk factors?

There are many factors that can increase the risk of suffering:

  • Age – People who are 50 years of age or over are more likely to develop some form of spinal stenosis.

  • Smoking – Those who smoke cigarettes may have a higher likelihood of constricted blood vessels or other body passageways.

  • Obesity – Being overweight or obese can add more stress to the spine and cause spinal instability.

  • Past injury – A spinal injury, especially when experienced early in life, can affect the spine’s stability years later.

  • Genetics – Sometimes, inherited traits can increase a person’s risk of suffering from spinal stenosis.

What are the symptoms?

Spinal stenosis causes a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, which can be debilitating in some cases. If you suffer from any of these symptoms of spinal lumbar stenosis, visit MedStar Health for an evaluation:

  • Pain in the back, legs, or bottom

  • Burning sensation or numbness and tingling in the legs

  • Weakness in the legs

How is it diagnosed?

The spine surgeons at MedStar Health are experts at diagnosing spinal stenosis. Our initial exam generally includes:

  • Medical history evaluation – This includes asking questions about when your pain began, and when the pain feels most severe. Other questions may be about whether you have other medical problems, and if you take any medications.
  • Physical exam – Your orthopedist will determine where your back is most sensitive by examining it and by asking you to move and bend in different directions.
  • Imaging tests – Your orthopedist may want to examine the bones and joints themselves using a variety of imaging techniques, including:
    • X-ray, which shows if your spine is aging, making spinal stenosis more likely
    • CT scan, which combines X-ray technology with computers to provide a very detailed picture of the spine
    • MRI, which uses powerful magnets and computer technology to create a picture of your muscles, tissues, nerves, and discs
    • Myelogram, in which a special dye is injected into your spine. The dye colors your nerves and shows if they are being squeezed by the vertebrae. This is typically necessary if a patient cannot have an MRI.

What is the best treatment?

Treatment generally depends on the severity of pain. Our experienced team of spine surgeons at MedStar Health will work with you and your family to develop the most effective treatment plan. Our team will recommend any combination of non-surgical and surgical treatment options designed to ease your pain and increase your activity level. Non-surgical treatment options may include:

  • Pain and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise therapy
  • Steroid injections

If non-surgical treatments do not relieve the pain, lumbar spinal stenosis surgery may be an option. The spine surgeons at MedStar Health are extensively trained in the most advanced and innovative surgical procedures to treat spinal stenosis, including: