Spinal stenosis is a condition that affects the spinal cord. In recent years, new treatments have emerged, but research on their effectiveness is still ongoing.
Spinal stenosis occurs when the spaces in the spine narrow and create pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. Symptoms include lower back pain, numbness, tingling, cramping, and weakness in the legs and feet. A person may also feel these symptoms in their neck.
If a person has more advanced spinal stenosis, it can lead to paraplegia and bowel and bladder incontinence.
Traditional spinal stenosis treatments include spinal fusions and laminectomy. Often people also undergo physical therapy and take pain medication to help manage symptoms.
Some new surgical treatments for spinal stenosis include lumbar interspinous distraction devices, acupotomy, and stem cell therapy.
This article examines the latest treatments for spinal stenosis and more conventional treatments. It also looks at the recovery process, whether spinal stenosis can get better without treatment, and questions a person should ask a doctor.
Below, we list some of the newest treatments for spinal stenosis.
Acupotomy is a type of acupuncture that may help treat spinal stenosis. It involves using a scalpel-style needle in addition to the regular acupuncture needle. The procedure aims to reduce muscle adhesions and pain.
A 2019 review on the safety and effectiveness of acupotomy suggests that the procedure shows promising results for treating conditions such as spinal stenosis. However, the authors also note that further research is necessary.
Additionally, there is little information regarding the success rate of this procedure. This may be because the procedure is still relatively new.
Lumbar interspinous distraction decompression
Sometimes known as an interspinous process device procedure, it is a surgical process that involves the insertion of a spacer between the spinous processes (bony fixtures on the end of each vertebra) to hold two vertebrae apart and relieve pressure on the nerves trapped between them.
In the past, surgeons had to open up the spinal canal to perform decompression surgeries, which exposed the nerves. A lumbar interspinous distraction decompression procedure does not involve opening the spinal canal, reducing possible complications.
The procedure is a type of keyhole surgery that a surgeon performs on a person under general anesthesia.
One 2021 study reports a 5-year success rate of 68% for this procedure compared to a success rate of 56% for older decompression procedures.
Stem cell therapy
Another fairly new treatment is stem cell therapy, which may help to repair damaged tissue.
Stem cell therapy involves taking samples of a person’s healthy cells, isolating them, and injecting them into the required area.
According to a 2021 review, stem cell therapy shows encouraging results for treating conditions such as spinal stenosis. However, further studies are necessary to confirm the safety and efficacy of the procedure.
The success rate of this procedure for spinal stenosis is currently unknown.
A clinical trial for LimiFlex as a treatment for spinal stenosis is ongoing. It began in 2017 and will follow individuals with spinal stenosis due to degenerative spondylolisthesis for 5 years.
LimiFlex is a device that a surgeon implants during decompression surgery. The aim is to help support and enhance the spine while stabilizing it. Limiflex does not contain screws or grafts, which may result in more flexibility in the spine than conventional surgeries can achieve.
Because LimiFlex is still in its trial period, the success rate is not yet known.
Many new treatments for spinal stenosis are less invasive and carry fewer risks than previous ones. They also aim to retain more flexibility in the spine.
However, they are also still in their infancy. Most research concludes that further trials need to happen before determining the safety and efficacy of these treatments.
Nonsurgical treatments for spinal stenosis have not changed very much in recent years.
Some typical nonsurgical treatments for spinal stenosis include:
- Physical therapy: During a physical therapy session, a physical therapist will stretch a person’s lower back, hips, and legs and show them helpful mobility exercises. This can help maintain strength, provide support, and decrease pain.
- Bracing: Back braces can help support the spine.
- Massage: Massaging and manipulating the surrounding tissue can help to reduce pain. However, only a trained professional should perform the massage to prevent further damage.
- Acupuncture: During acupuncture, a professional acupuncturist inserts fine needles into specific parts of the body. A
2018 studyfound acupuncture was a more effective treatment for spinal stenosis than exercise and medication.
- Medication: A doctor may prescribe oral medications to help a person manage pain levels. Additionally, they may recommend topical medications to rub into painful areas. In some cases, over-the-counter (OTC) medications may also be beneficial.
The most effective treatment depends on the individual.
Doctors may consider the following when assessing the appropriate treatment:
- the severity of a person’s condition
- location of the spinal stenosis
- age of the person
- the needs and wants of the person
A doctor will usually discuss the potential treatment options with each person.
A person does not always need surgery for spinal stenosis. However, a person may still need to take medication to manage the pain.
Sudden limb paralysis or incontinence is a neurologic emergency that requires immediate intervention to decompress the affected nerves.
People with spinal stenosis should consider asking their doctor the following questions about their treatment:
- What can I expect from treatment?
- What are all the treatment options?
- Is surgery essential?
- What happens if the first treatment is not successful?
- How long will the recovery period be?
- Are there any lifestyle modifications to ease symptoms?
Various treatment options exist for spinal stenosis, including several new treatment options, such as stem cell therapy.
Many new procedures are still in their infancy, and research into their efficacy is still ongoing. These new procedures appear to be less invasive than the conventional ones.
The best treatment for spinal stenosis varies from person to person. Sometimes, spinal stenosis does not require surgery, and symptoms may go away on their own.
However, people with more advanced spinal stenosis will require immediate medical attention. The doctor will tailor an individual treatment plan according to the person’s goals and the severity of the clinical findings.