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The pain, numbness or discomfort that often accompanies spinal stenosis is frequently intense enough that it prompts you to seek out relief. Luckily, minimally invasive spinal stenosis surgery is affording patients the opportunity to receive treatments that not only relieve the symptoms but also have a minimum impact on your body.

What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition of the backbone that affects an estimated 250,000 – 500,000 Americans on some level. The severity of symptoms of this condition can range from mild to completely debilitating. If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, it’s important you understand what it is and how it can affect your quality of life.

Your spine is an ingenious structure that provides support to your entire body. It consists of individual bones called vertebra that perfectly interlock with one another, creating a flexible yet strong column.

The center of each of your vertebra is hollow, forming what is commonly called the spinal canal. Through this central channel runs your spinal cord and nerve roots. The spinal cord consists of nerves and other tissues that carry signals from your brain to the rest of your body.

In order for your spinal cord to be able to function properly, the spinal canal must be open all the way through. In the case of spinal stenosis, however, this space has narrowed and may even be causing compression of nerve roots or other structures within the spinal cord.

Causes for spinal stenosis

  • Bone growing into the free space. This is frequently seen with osteoarthritis. It can also occur with diseases such as Paget’s disease.
  • Herniated discs. Between each vertebra lies an intervertebral disc. Each of these discs acts as a cushion between the bones. When these discs are damaged or worn they can “herniate” and part of the disc may push into the spinal canal, putting pressure on nerves or the spinal cord itself.
  • Thickened spinal ligaments. A series of ligaments run along and around your spine. If these become damaged or thickened, they can push into the canal and cause pressure on the spinal cord.
  • Tumors. Tumors in or around the spinal canal (for instance, a tumor of the dura mater, the sac that surrounds the spinal cord) can grow and cause compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots.

What is spinal stenosis surgery?

Minimally invasive spinal stenosis surgery is an innovative way of performing surgery through small incisions with specialized instruments. This reduces the trauma and helps aid in a quicker recovery. The main goal of minimally invasive spinal stenosis surgery is to create more room for the spinal cord in the narrowed areas.

Minimally invasive spinal stenosis surgery involves creating one or more small incisions near the affected vertebra. A procedure known as a laminectomy is performed. This minimally invasive technique preserves as much of the surrounding tissue as possible while removing a portion of the affected vertebra known as the lamina. When this procedure is used, there is very little associated tissue damage and the recovery time is much shorter than that of standard back surgery.

Preparing for minimally invasive spinal stenosis surgery

Being well-prepared for any surgery is a good idea and spinal stenosis surgery is no exception. It’s vital to know what you can and must do to help your surgery have as successful an outcome as possible.

Here are a few tips for preparing yourself for minimally invasive spinal stenosis surgery.

  • Find the right surgeon. It’s important to choose a surgeon you feel comfortable with and can trust with your health. If you’re stumped on where to find a surgeon in the tri-state area, Google is a great place to start or contact your insurance provider.
  • Diagnostics. Be sure to show up for all of your imaging diagnostics appointments prior to (and after) surgery. This will allow your doctors to see exactly what is going on and determine the best course of treatment.
  • Have plenty of help for the first few days. The days after you come home from the hospital can be stressful. Be sure you have enough help you allow you to take care of the basic necessities such as cooking, cleaning and driving.

The procedure

Although minimally invasive, spinal stenosis surgery requires that you be put under general anesthesia. This means you will be completely asleep for the duration of your surgery.

When you arrive at the hospital on the day of your surgery, you’ll be taken to preparation and then surgery. In surgical preparation, you will be assessed. Once they’ve established that you are good to have surgery, you’ll be prepared.

The procedure involves your surgeon making a small incision near the affected vertebra. Using a tiny surgical camera known as an endoscope, your doctor will carefully remove the bone from the affected discs. At this time, if a fusion is required, that, too, will be performed.

Once your surgery is finished you’ll be moved to a recovery area, and then from there, your room for the rest of the duration of your stay.

Recovery from spinal stenosis surgery

Recovery is a vital part of making your way back to a healthy lifestyle. After your surgery, you’ll need to rest frequently and will have restrictions on lifting heavy objects and other strenuous activities.

As you recover, you’ll be tempted to do more and more; be sure to heed your doctor’s advice and only do as much as you’ve been cleared to do. It’s not worth injuring your surgery site.

Follow-ups are also an important part of the recovery process. It’s of utmost importance that you attend all of your follow-ups. These appointments will allow your doctor to assess your healing progress and catch anything that’s amiss. The same goes for physical therapy. It may not be much fun but it does allow you to regain strength and mobility — both vital for a healthy, strong recovery.

By knowing what to expect from minimally invasive spinal stenosis surgery, you may find that you’re feeling better than you ever have.