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Pain Management and Spinal Stenosis

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How Is Spinal Stenosis Diagnosed?

Spinal stenosis can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can be caused by other conditions. Usually, people who develop stenosis have no history of back problems or any recent injury. Often, unusual leg symptoms are a clue to the presence of spinal stenosis.

If simple treatments, such as postural changes or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, do not relieve the problem, special imaging studies may be needed to determine the cause of the problem. An MRI (magnetic resonance image) or CT (computed tomography) scan may be requested. A myelogram (an X-ray taken after a dye is injected into the spine) may be performed. These and other imaging studies can offer details about the bones and tissues and help with diagnosis.

How Is Spinal Stenosis Treated?

Spinal stenosis can be treated several ways. Treatment options include:

  • Changes in posture: People with spinal stenosis may find that flexing the spine by leaning forward while walking relieves their symptoms. Lying with the knees drawn up to the chest also can offer some relief. These positions enlarge the space available to the nerves and may make it easier for people with stenosis to walk longer distances.
  • Medications: In some cases, the pressure on the nerves is caused by inflammatory swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) such as aspirin or ibuprofen may help relieve symptoms.
  • Rest: Rest, followed by a gradual resumption of activity, can help. Aerobic activity such as bicycling is often recommended.
  • Surgery: If other treatments do not ease the pain, surgery may be recommended to relieve the pressure on affected nerves.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on March 21, 2014
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