Spinal Stenosis: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Spine and spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the canal that surrounds the spinal cord and nerve roots. The spine is made up of bones, or vertebrae. The spinal cord runs through an opening in the bones called the spinal canal. Sometimes, bone and ligament and disc tissue grow into this canal and press on the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. This causes pain, numbness, or weakness—most often in the arms, legs, feet, and rear end (buttocks). Spinal stenosis can happen as you age. It can occur in the lower back or the neck.

You may be able to treat spinal stenosis with pain medicine and exercises to keep your spine strong and flexible. Your doctor may suggest physiotherapy. You also may have cortisone (corticosteroid) shots to reduce swelling. However, you may need surgery if your pain and numbness are so bad that you cannot do normal activities.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Reach and stay at a healthy weight. Too much weight is hard on your spine.
  • Change positions when sitting to ease pain. For example, lean forward. This may reduce pressure on the spinal cord and its nerves.
  • Stretch your back muscles as your doctor or physiotherapist recommends. Here are a few exercises to try if your doctor says it is okay.
    • Lie on your back and gently pull one bent knee to your chest. Put that foot back on the floor and then pull the other knee to your chest.
    • Do pelvic tilts. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Tighten your stomach muscles. Pull your belly button (navel) in and up toward your ribs. You should feel like your back is pressing to the floor and your hips and pelvis are slightly lifting off the floor. Hold for 6 seconds while breathing smoothly.
    • Press your back flat against a wall and slide down into a half squat. Hold for 6 seconds while breathing normally.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are unable to move a leg at all.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Current as of: May 23, 2016