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Treating lumbar spinal stenosis

Lankenau Medical Center February 26, 2021 General Wellness

Staying active as we age allows us to do things we love— from traveling to enjoying time with family. But for those living with a spine condition like lumbar spinal stenosis, participating in even simple activities can be a challenge. That’s because the condition can cause difficulty standing or walking for any length of time.

“Lumbar spinal stenosis is caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the nerves in the lower back,” explains Scott Rushton, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health. “It occurs naturally with age, but having osteoarthritis or stability issues in the spine can increase your risk. Women are more prone to developing lumbar spinal stenosis because of their anatomy.”

Spinal stenosis is diagnosed with imaging tests as well as discussion with your doctor. Common symptoms include heaviness, pain, cramping or numbness in the legs that limits tolerance for walking. “Many people with spinal stenosis compensate by leaning on someone or something—like a shopping cart—to extend their activity,” says Dr. Rushton.

Most people with spinal stenosis can manage the condition without surgery. Dr. Rushton recommends doing activities that strengthen the core and encourage flexibility, such as physical therapy, yoga and Pilates. Epidural injections can help reduce pain and inflammation for some patients. 

However, if symptoms are severe, surgery can offer a long-term solution.

“Surgery to relieve lumbar spinal stenosis is one of the most effective, rewarding procedures we do in health care today,” says Dr. Rushton, who has helped thousands of patients with the condition. “The majority of patients find relief of leg pain and regain excellent walking tolerance.”

The surgery, called decompressive laminectomy, involves removing the roof of the spine to alleviate pressure on the nerves. Patients often report immediate relief.

“I’ve successfully performed this surgery on appropriate patients who are well into their 80s. An 84-year-old woman wants and deserves as much quality of life as someone who is younger,” says Dr. Rushton. “Age should not be a limiting factor to obtaining relief with spine surgery.”

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.