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Neurosurgery Mesa

Spinal Stenosis / Herniated Discs

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a common condition that involves a narrowing in one or more areas of the spine as a result of injury or deterioration to the discs, joints or bones within the spinal canal.

While some patients may be born with spinal stenosis, most cases develop later in life as a result of the degenerative changes that occur in the spine over time. Osteoarthritis is the main cause of spinal stenosis, as it causes the cartilage in the area to deteriorate and eventually results in the bones rubbing against each other and forming growths called bone spurs.  These bone spurs may narrow the spinal canal when they form the facet joints. Spinal stenosis can also be caused by a herniated disc, ligament changes or spinal tumors.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Patients with spinal stenosis may experience cramping, pain and numbness in the legs, back, neck, shoulders or arms, depending on which part of the spine is affected. A loss of sensation, loss of balance and bladder malfunctioning may also occur in some patients.

Some patients may not experience any symptoms from this condition. It is only when the narrowed area of the spine compresses the spinal cord or nerves that symptoms arise.

Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is often difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can come and go and may resemble the symptoms of many other conditions. A diagnosis of spinal stenosis is often achieved after ruling out other conditions after performing imaging exams such as a spinal X-ray, MRI, CT scan, bone scan and others. Your doctor will also ask you several questions about your symptoms and overall health to correctly diagnose your condition and provide an adequate treatment solution.


Most cases of spinal stenosis can be effectively treated through conservative methods such as physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, rest and a back brace. These treatments are usually administered for at least three months for the spine to heal properly and allow for full function. The specific treatment for your individual condition may vary.

For more severe cases of spinal stenosis, surgery may be required to relieve pressure on the spinal cord while also maintaining the integrity of the site. This may be achieved through procedures such as a decompressive laminectomy, laminotomy or fusion that relieve pressure and join the damaged bone back to its normal state.

Herniated Discs

An intervertebral disc is located in between the bones (vertebrae) of the spine to provide cushioning support and flexibility within the spine. However, these discs may become damaged and tear or move out of place. A herniated disc, also known as a ruptured or slipped disc, is a common condition that may occur as a result of gradual wear and tear on the disc or from a spinal injury that cracks or tears the disc and causes it to bulge or break open.

Patients with a herniated disc may experience pain, numbness and weakness in the affected area as the disc presses on the nearby nerve roots. The location of the affected disc determines the location of the pain. For example, a herniated disc in the lower back may cause pain through the buttock and down the leg, a condition known as sciatica.

Your doctor can diagnose this condition after performing a physical examination and taking X-ray images of the affected area. He or she will also ask you questions about your symptoms in order to rule out other conditions and confirm the diagnosis. The symptoms associated with a herniated disc can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain medication and therapeutic exercises; surgery is only required for the most severe cases. Your doctor will develop a customized treatment plan for your individual condition.

Primary & Metastatic Tumors

A spinal tumor is a growth that develops in or around the spinal cord or surrounding bones, which may be cancerous or noncancerous and can lead to severe pain and even paralysis. They may develop within the spine, known as primary tumors, or more commonly spread from other areas of the body, referred to as metastatic tumors. The specific cause of spinal tumors is unknown, although many are linked to genetic abnormalities and tend to run in families as well.

Patients with a spinal tumor commonly experience pain in the middle or lower back as their primary symptom, which may also spread to the hips, legs, feet or arms. Some patients may also experience:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Decreased sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Loss of bladder function
  • Scoliosis

Treatment for a spinal tumor aims to completely eliminate the tumor without damaging the surrounding nerves, and may include surgical resection, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of techniques, depending on each patient’s individual condition.

Spinal Trauma

Spinal trauma may occur as a result of several different factors, including a fall, motor vehicle accident, sports injury or violent encounter, and can lead to a fracture or dislocation of one or more of the vertebrae, as well as bleeding, swelling and inflammation within the spinal cord. After spinal trauma, patients may experience pain, loss of movement, loss of sensation, exaggerated reflexes and difficulty breathing, depending on the type, location and severity of their condition.

To evaluate spinal trauma, your doctor will most likely perform a series of imaging exams, including x-rays, CT scans, MRI and myelography, immediately after the injury and a few days later when swelling subsides. A neurological exam may be performed as well to test muscle strength and sensation.

Treatment for a spinal cord injury may vary depending on each patient’s individual condition, but often includes medication to reduce nerve damage, immobilization of the spine or surgery to remove bone fragments or herniated disks. Physical rehabilitation and long-term medication use can help manage the effects and minimize complications associated with spinal trauma. While there is no way to reverse spinal cord damage, many patients can relieve symptoms and restore functionality through a personalized treatment plan.

Compression Fractures

Like any other bone in your body, the bones of the spine, called vertebrae, can fracture. These fractures are usually a result of osteoporosis, pressure on the spine, metastatic diseases, a fall or other type of injury. A spinal fracture is called a vertebral compression fracture and occurs most often in the thoracic or middle spine.

Compression fractures can cause mild to severe pain depending on how they occur, and may also result in curving of the spine in some cases. If a fracture is suspected, your doctor may perform an x-ray, CT scan or MRI to evaluate the extent of the injury and determine the most effective treatment approach.

Treatment for compression fractures usually includes pain medication, rest and bracing. Medication simply relieves the pain but bracing will restrict movement, relieve pressure and allow the fracture to heal. Surgery may be required for more severe fractures, but is not usually necessary. Most compression fractures heal completely in eight to twelve weeks. Taking measures to prevent compression fractures is the most effective treatment.

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