Spinal stenosis surgery – an overview

Spinal stenosis surgery

What is spinal stenosis?

The focus of this post is spinal stenosis surgery, but before we can really begin to discuss surgical treatment options for spinal stenosis, it is important to identify spinal stenosis. Most people who are diagnosed with spinal stenosis are in their 50s-60s, and have had an MRI which confirms the presence of anomalies such as bone spurs that are negatively affecting the spinal column by shrinking the area in which it is enclosed. Despite the frequency of diagnosis in middle age, some people are born with spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis most commonly occurs in the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine, and generally causes numbness or weakness and pain along the affected nerve pathways. The potential causes for spinal stenosis include aging, arthritis, spondylolisthesis (a condition which causes the vertebrae to slip out of place or be unstable), injury, tumors, or even genetics.  In most cases, spinal stenosis surgery isn’t necessary.

Alternatives to surgery

Among the alternatives to spinal stenosis surgery, you will find exercise, the use of over the counter pain relievers, weight loss, physical therapy, and occasionally your doctor may even prescribe local injections of steroids in the affected site. If you have exhausted these more conservative treatment methods, it might be time to consider surgical treatment to relieve your pain. Some indicators that you might need surgery include the presence of persistent pain for more than three months, and in the case of lumbar spinal stenosis, if the pain shoots down one or both legs.

Types of surgery

There are two primary types of spinal stenosis surgery. The most widely recommended procedure used to treat spinal stenosis involves the removal of the ligaments that have thickened and any bone which are reducing the room available for the spinal cord and nerves. A more experimental technique which is growing in popularity, but may also cause more severe complications such as stroke or death involves making a larger incision in order to fuse some of the affected vertebrae together after removing the affected bony tissue and ligaments. Complications of both techniques can be severe, and life-threatening, since they are both considered invasive techniques.

Concerns about the proliferation of spinal stenosis surgery

In recent years, a spike in the number of spinal stenosis surgeries has left some orthopedic doctors concerned. They believe that aggressive marketing techniques and the opportunity to earn a little extra cash are responsible for the rise in surgeries being performed for the condition.  Proponents of, and surgeons who perform, spinal stenosis surgery argue that the increase in the number of surgeries could be the result of better imaging technologies, and not the result of greed and advertising.

If you decide to pursue spinal stenosis surgery, make sure that you have exhausted all available alternatives first. The majority of individuals suffering from spinal stenosis do not require surgery to alleviate their symptoms. Even if you do undergo surgery, be aware that the chance for recurrence exists to varying degrees, based on the problems which led to your development of spinal stenosis. Ask your doctor if surgery is right for you.

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