Canal stenosis describes narrowing in the spinal canal. This is the passage formed by arches in each of the vertebrae that protect the spinal cord. The narrowing can occur due to many different causes, including bulging discs, bone spurs, and joint inflammation.
Canal stenosis is a specific type of spinal stenosis, a broader condition that includes narrowing in other parts of the spine.
The reason why canal stenosis can be so hard to live with is that narrowing of the central canal can cause a pinched nerve. Because the spinal canal sends information between the brain and the rest of the body, canal stenosis pain can be very debilitating.
If you are looking for ways to relieve pain and other symptoms, learning about the treatment process for canal stenosis can be beneficial. By having a greater understanding of your options, from physical therapy to minimally invasive procedures, you can make a more confident care decision as you seek the relief you deserve.
Step one — work with a doctor to understand your diagnosis and begin basic therapies
Canal stenosis is often caused by age-related changes and is progressive. This means that symptoms start out as mild and get worse over time. For this reason, you should take neck or back pain seriously and see a doctor for any symptoms that don’t improve in a short period of time.
For many dealing with pain and other symptoms, canal stenosis will be the underlying cause. Doctors reach a diagnosis by reviewing the patient medical history, asking questions about symptoms, performing a physical examination, and ordering any necessary diagnostic tests. In non-emergency cases of canal stenosis, treatment usually begins with nonsurgical treatment designed to relieve pain and increase function.
This can range from periods of rest to take pressure off the spine to taking medication to relieve pain. Additionally, using hot and cold therapy to relax tense muscles, improve circulation, reduce swelling and provide temporary numbness can help.
Step two — make lifestyle changes that limit stress on the spinal canal
While the main cause of canal stenosis is the aging process, it is also caused by the sheer amount of pressure placed on the spine every day. In addition to protecting the spinal cord, the spine is responsible for holding the body upright. Over time, forces that increase stress on the spine can speed up degeneration, worsening canal stenosis.
Upon diagnosis of canal stenosis, your doctor will use your medical history and lifestyle to identify and address risk factors that may be affecting your spine health. This can include carrying extra weight, posture, muscle weakness, tobacco use, and an unhealthy diet.
While making lifestyle changes will not directly relieve pain caused by canal stenosis, it can help in the long run. For example, through regular exercise that strengthens core muscles, patients can relieve pressure on the spinal canal. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important, as it reduces the overall pressure on the spine while walking, sitting, or standing.
Step three — fully explore advanced treatments
If initial treatments and lifestyle changes do not relieve pain and allow for a good quality of life, there are still nonsurgical options to pursue before surgery. Two common options are physical therapy and therapeutic injections.
These more advanced forms of treatment for canal stenosis help in the following ways:
- Physical therapy — While often associated with serious injuries and surgical rehabilitation, working with a physical therapist can help canal stenosis patients relieve pain and improve function. Active and passive exercises and stretches can strengthen the core and increase the range of motion. Manual therapies help to release painful trigger points while improving circulation and flexibility. Finally, posture and movement training can help patients learn to evenly distribute weight and avoid certain painful movements.
- Therapeutic injections — A common treatment for canal stenosis are epidural steroid injections. These are an injection of a corticosteroid and a numbing agent that are injected into the epidural space of the spinal cord. Patients find these pain management injections can relieve pain and inflammation for weeks and months. While not a permanent solution, therapeutic injections can help patients regain activity, which can help strengthen the spine and complete physical therapy programs that may not have been possible otherwise.
Additionally, some patients with canal stenosis also pursue certain alternative treatments, such as chiropractic care or acupuncture. Although not fully supported by medical evidence, some people do report improvements when attempting these treatments as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. It is important to keep your doctor informed when pursuing any new form of therapy to ensure that it is compatible with existing treatments.
Step four — understand your surgical options, including minimally invasive procedures
Canal stenosis surgery becomes an option when you have exhausted other treatments without finding pain relief and an acceptable quality of life. The goal of any canal stenosis procedure is to open up the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. There are several approaches, including decompression procedures and stabilization procedures, also known as spinal fusions.
The type of procedure will depend on the patient’s specific condition, overall spine health, and medical history. However, it is also important to understand that the surgical methods used can have an effect on the outcome.
Due to the continued development of surgical techniques and technological advancements, surgeons have developed minimally invasive canal stenosis procedures. This type of surgery requires only a small incision, minimizes disruption and displacement of surrounding tissue, and can be performed on an outpatient basis.
Because minimally invasive spine surgery can be performed at an outpatient surgery center, it offers advantages compared to hospital-based procedures, including a reduced risk of infection.
Reach out to the experts in canal stenosis care
To learn more about the full range of pain relief therapies for canal stenosis, reach out to BEST Health System today. We’ll help you better understand your treatment options so you can get back to the active lifestyle you deserve.