That neck pain you’ve experienced for far too long is no longer a mystery – the cervical spinal stenosis diagnosis you received from your primary care physician or spine specialist has finally given the condition a name. Yet, now that you know what is causing those excruciating symptoms, what can you do about it? Chances are, that is the very question you asked your doctor (or some variation) once you found out that the spinal cord or other neural openings in the cervical (neck) region of your spine were being restricted by some sort of anatomical abnormality. And while you might be well into a conservative treatment plan designed to manage your symptoms, some lingering questions might still remain. Chief among them: What happens if the conservative treatment doesn’t work?
What About Surgery?
The vast majority of patients who receive a cervical spinal stenosis diagnosis never have to concern themselves with surgery. In most cases, the neck pain and other radiculopathic symptoms (tingling, numbness, etc.) being caused by nerve root compression or spinal cord compression can be managed using a combination of nonsurgical treatment methods that might include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Prescription analgesic medication or narcotics
- Stretching and strength training with light weights
- Behavior modification training to improve posture
- Electrical nerve stimulation
- Hot/cold applications
- Periodic rest
- And others, as applicable
Of course, there are exceptions. Not everyone is able to achieve meaningful relief using only conservative treatment methods. For those people, there is a decision to make regarding surgery.
Minimally Invasive vs. Spinal Fusion
A spinal stenosis diagnosis usually means a bone spur, herniated disc material, or another age-related degenerative spine condition has given rise to spinal nerve compression. For many years, the surgical solution to this kind of debilitating physical condition was spinal fusion. This highly invasive operation requires the removal of a large portion of the spinal anatomy to open up space around pinched nerves, followed by the insertion of metal and plastic hardware and bone graft material to permanently immobilize the affected vertebral segment. Recuperation often takes months, or even up to a year, and there is a relatively high risk of infection and surgical failure.
Some patients find that they are candidates for a spinal fusion alternative – minimally invasive spine surgery performed using advanced, endoscopic techniques. This type of operation is performed on an outpatient basis and requires a much shorter period of recuperation. Ask your personal physician or spine specialist, and get a second opinion, on whether you might be a candidate for a minimally invasive procedure before consenting to spinal fusion for neck pain.
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