Severe back pain and leg pain
caused by spinal stenosis can prevent you from living the way you want to: It
can impact your work, social life, and family.
At Wake Forest Baptist Health’s
Spine Center, we specialize in relieving your pain so you can actively
participate in your life. Led by Chair of Neurosurgery and spinal surgeon Dr.
Charles Branch, an innovator in minimally invasive approaches to spinal
stenosis, we offer a full range of treatments, all at a location convenient to
About Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis refers to
narrowing of the spinal canal that can cause severe pain. Stenosis may occur in
the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. It is most common in the lumbar and
Lumbar stenosis usually results
in back and leg pain when standing, but improves when sitting. Cervical
stenosis may result in arm and leg weakness or unsteadiness.
Stenosis is like a tourniquet
applied when you give blood—after a few minutes with the tourniquet applied,
the arm gets swollen and your fingers get numb. When the tourniquet is
released, you feel better. In the same way, lumbar stenosis squeezes your
spinal nerves, especially when you stand.
Spinal Stenosis Causes and Diagnosis
Stenosis may be caused by:
joint ligaments (ligamentum flavum)
discs that have bulged into the spinal canal and become calcified
joint that has become arthritic and pinches the nerves or spinal cord in
conjunction with the above
We diagnose spinal stenosis with
a magnetic resonance (MR) scan or computed tomography (CT) myelogram scan.
X-rays will help determine if an instability needs to be addressed as well.
Types of Spinal Stenosis
Lumbar stenosis, the
most common type, compresses nerves and usually can be treated successfully
though medication, physical therapy, or surgery.
Stenosis can be accompanied by scoliosis or
spondylolisthesis, which results in greater pain when you stand. This
requires more extensive treatment to decompress the nerves and to stabilize the
If the stenosis occurs in the
cervical or thoracic spine, resulting in the spinal cord compression, this is
called myelopathy and may end up
being a permanent problem.
Spinal Stenosis Treatments
At Wake Forest Baptist Health’s
Spine Center, we offer a full array of treatments for spinal stenosis. We
develop a treatment plan specific to your symptoms and recommend an approach
that offers the highest probability of success with the least risk.
Spinal Stenosis Treatment options include:
- Physical therapy: We usually try this first, especially if the stenosis is in
the lumbar spine. This restores flexibility and mobility, and may relieve the
symptoms without surgery.
- Stretching, ultrasound, and thermal
treatments or massaging: May be recommended if
you experience painful muscle spasms.
- Steroid injections in spine: For when the stenosis is mild but there is some inflammation
of the nerves and other therapies haven’t helped.
Spinal Stenosis Surgery
If physical therapies or
injections don't work, a minimally invasive surgical decompression may be effective.
We remove a thickened ligament or overgrown facet or hinge joint, or removal of
a bulging disc or spur, opening up the spinal canal and relieving the stenosis.
This is a great treatment option
when just one or two joints or segments of the spine are involved and may be
used in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spinal stenosis.
A minimally invasive approach
limits the damage or injury to the muscles and tissues around the spine and
allows for a quicker recovery. Patients are discharged the same day or
next day, and are expected to rapidly progress to a more active lifestyle and
return to conditioning programs within a few weeks.
If the stenosis is extensive over
multiple levels, then a more extensive surgical decompression is required and a
minimally invasive approach may not be the best option.
A patient who undergoes a
surgical decompression for severe symptomatic spinal stenosis should expect a
significant reduction in pain and an improvement in their lifestyle.
At the Wake Forest Baptist Health
Spine Center, initial evaluation, physical and interventional therapies and
surgical evaluations are available in one facility. Our spine specialists will
make every effort to match the least invasive treatment for the patient's
symptoms and diagnosis.
With state-of-the-art imaging,
easily accessible clinics, and the most advanced minimally invasive techniques
and surgeons, patients receive personalized treatment of their spinal stenosis
with the highest probability of success.
Request an Appointment
Find a Spine Center specialist.