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Is spinal stenosis causing your back pain?

Man waking up in the morning who is sitting in bed & stretching his back.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spine, which can cause severe pain. More common in older adults, it can be treated with surgery when appropriate.

Spinal stenosis is one of the most common conditions seen by Dr. John Neal, a Marshfield Clinic neurosurgeon.

Although it can be so painful that it affects peoples’ ability to function, newer surgical techniques can often be very successful, even in patients who are in their 80s or 90s.

Most patients with spinal stenosis are in their 60s, although Neal has recently seen people in their 40s and even younger.

This condition causes narrowing of the spine, which puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, often causing severe pain.

Tumors and trauma cause spinal stenosis

As people age, the bands of tissue supporting the spine may get thick and hard. The bones and joints get bigger and the surfaces of the bones bulge out.

Spinal stenosis can be caused by tumors of the spine, traumatic injury or even a congenital condition from birth.

Sometimes a person may have spinal stenosis but won’t feel any pain, especially if the narrowing is in the neck. This patient may instead feel achy or tired.

Treatment options vary

“Patients tell me they feel weak and just have to stop what they’re doing,” Neal said.

By the time Neal sees a patient, the person has failed conservative treatments such as medications, limitations on activities, exercises, physical therapy and braces.

Such a patient may be a candidate for a surgical procedure known as a laminectomy, which involves removing bone from the narrowed area of the spine.

“We take many factors into account in deciding if surgery is right for a particular patient,” he said. “We won’t perform surgery if the potential risk exceeds the benefit.”

If you feel you may have spinal stenosis, ask your health care provider if a referral to a specialist is appropriate.

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