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Spinal stenosis: What is it? How can you find relief?

Are you suffering from back or leg pain while walking or standing that typically goes away when you sit or lay down? You may be starting to see signs of spinal stenosis, a degenerative condition that is common in older adults.

We asked Tufts Medical Center neurosurgeon and back pain expert in the Spine Center, Jim Kryzanski, MD to provide some of the top things that you should know about spinal stenosis, including treatment options available in Boston.

James Kryzanski, MD is a neurosurgeon at Tufts Medical Center.Spinal stenosis is common

Spinal stenosis is a painful, degenerative condition that is caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal, which holds the nerves as they descend toward the legs. It is a common spinal condition that is more prevalent in older adults. A 2009 study published in Spine Journal found that about two in three of the study participants aged 60-69 had spinal stenosis. Among those under age 40, the rate was less than one in four. 

There are a number of options that can bring relief

People with mild spinal stenosis may have little or no symptoms. More often, it leads to a combination of back and leg pain that often comes on with standing or walking and is relieved by sitting or lying down. To help alleviate these symptoms our team may first recommend:

  • Stretching and strengthening exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist. The Physical Therapy Program at Tufts MC offers consultations to find the best stretching regimen for your specific needs. After a quick consultation, you can be confident that you are implementing the stretches correctly and constructively.
  • Alternating heat and cold on problem areas. Finding the right combination of heat and cold may require some experimentation. Be cautious when using heat, and experiment with both heat and cold therapies to find out which works best for you. A PT consultation can help find the right balance for your specific needs.
  • Over the counter medication. NSAIDs (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) are the some of the most common medications – obtained without a prescription – for pain and inflammation. Always use as directed.
  • Steroid injections or nerve blocks. Injections and nerve blocks tend to provide temporary relief that can be beneficial to reduce pain while exploring other treatment options.

When symptoms remain severe despite conservative treatments surgery can offer effective long term relief

At Tufts MC, our expert spine surgeons offer minimally invasive surgeries to reduce pain and allow patients to get back to their lives quickly. Among patients who have had surgery to treat their spinal stenosis at Tufts MC, 90% are satisfied with the results. Surgical options include:

  • Decompression surgery. The most common type of decompression surgery is a technique called laminotomy and faoraminotomy, your surgeon will make a small incision in the back or neck and using minimally invasive techniques, will remove ligaments, cartilage or bone spurs that constrict the nerves. Other decompression surgery options include a laminectomy or a discectomy.
  • Spinal fusion. If you have spinal stenosis and instability of the spine (called spondylolisthesis), our neurosurgery team may perform a spinal fusion. During this procedure, the surgeon will permanently join unstable vertebrae using metal screws and rods that work like an internal brace to keep the bones in your back in the correct position.

If you think you or a family member may have spinal stenosis or if you’re interested in learning more, request an appointment online or call 617-636-8585. 

Request an appointment with the Spine Center >