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Weekend Doctor: Spinal stenosis treatment

By Andrius Giedraitis, MD
Blanchard Valley Pain Management

Spinal stenosis is a debilitating condition that affects many individuals, particularly as we age. Spinal stenosis involves the narrowing of spaces within the spine, causing compression onto the spinal cord and/or nerves coming from the spinal cord that go to muscles throughout your body. This narrowing can occur in most parts of the spine but is most common in the lower back (lumbar spine), where it can significantly impact a person's function and quality of life.

The spine consists of vertebrae (made of bone) stacked upon one another. These vertebrae have a hollow space that holds and protects the spinal cord and nerve roots called the spinal canal. In spinal stenosis, the open spaces between the vertebrae within the spine narrow, placing pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. 

Diagnosing spinal stenosis
The result of spinal stenosis is often pain, numbness, or weakness, particularly in the legs. Pain is often described as a burning pain radiating to the buttocks and legs that worsens with extended periods of standing or walking. One common sign that can help your pain provider diagnose spinal stenosis is called the “shopping cart sign.” Have you experienced leg pain and weakness while grocery shopping, only to find relief when leaning over the cart? This symptom, known as the “shopping cart sign,” is often reported by patients with spinal stenosis. The reason patients get relief when they lean over the cart is because it opens or widens the spinal space between vertebrae and relieves the pressure on the nerves. 

Life with spinal stenosis
Patients with spinal stenosis may find their daily lives significantly altered. The pain and discomfort associated with the condition can limit one's ability to stand or walk for extended periods, affecting everything from daily errands to enjoying recreational activities. For those accustomed to an active lifestyle, the impact can be particularly challenging, diminishing not only physical function but also the overall quality of life.

Promising treatment option
Traditionally, surgical interventions have been considered for spinal stenosis. However, the field of interventional pain management has witnessed significant advancements, bringing forth less invasive alternatives. One such innovation is a procedure to implant the Vertiflex interspinous spacer device. This outpatient procedure is designed to address the root cause of spinal stenosis without the need for major surgery.

The Vertiflex procedure places a small spacer inside the spine without damaging any nearby bone or tissue. Once inserted, the implant’s arms open around the spinous processes (the bumps you can feel in your spine) and hold the space open. This preserves the necessary space in the spine, lifting pressure off the nerves in the lower back, which can result in the reduction or elimination of leg and back pain. This simple and streamlined procedure can be completed at an outpatient center.

Understanding spinal stenosis empowers patients to explore innovative solutions with their care team. If you or a loved one is grappling with the challenges of what you suspect could be spinal stenosis, know that advancements in pain management treatments may offer relief.