“Stenosis is probably the most common surgery of the spine in America,” says Thomas A. Staner, MD, a neurosurgeon with Alabama Neurosurgeons in Birmingham. “It’s really a very excellent way to treat this condition after you’ve tried more conservative measures for handling the pain.” He quotes a 90% good success rate with his spinal stenosis surgeries.
For example. “Last week, I had two patients come in and both had paralysis caused by stenosis. One couldn’t walk. After surgery, both got all their strength back. One was moving again in the recovery room,” says Dr. Staner. “People believe the outcomes are not as good as they usually are for this type of surgery.”
There’s not enough room. Spinal stenosis occurs when bone and/or muscle grow thicker in the vertebrae reducing the space in the spinal canal. It gradually narrows, slowly compressing the spinal cord. “The nerve roots get pinched and that can cause numbing, tingling and burning sensations in the body or even paralysis,” says Dr. Staner.
Are you susceptible? “You can’t prevent it. Stenosis is a natural product of aging. The majority of people who get stenosis are older, after age 50,” states Dr. Staner. “Very muscular people are liable to have stenosis as well, because their bones are so thick and strong.”
Family ties. “It can run in families. I treated three sisters once for stenosis. They said they had another sister who was in a nursing home because she couldn’t walk. I’ll bet she had stenosis too,” recalls Dr. Staner.
Surgery can mend it. “In surgery, we take away some of the arthritis and remove some bone to make the area larger. That relieves the pressures off both the nerves and/or the cord,” explains Dr. Staner.”
Other avenues. Before heading to surgery, you might find enough pain relief through more conservative approaches. “Epidural blocks, rest, and sometimes taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can manage the situation if you just have pain and no paralysis. You should try something small and simple before surgery,” suggests Dr. Staner.
by Jane Ehrhardt
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