Diagnosed with Spinal Stenosis?

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There should never be any attempt to treat spinal stenosis until a qualified physician has given a proper diagnosis. Back pain sufferers, moreso than other pain sufferers, have a tendency to self-diagnose which can lead to inaccurate treatments and worsening pain. Some treatments may only serve to increase the pain and make other symptoms worse without an accurate diagnosis.

If you suspect your pain may be a serious condition like spinal stenosis, make an appointment to get diagnosed. During this time you will undergo several tests to determine the source of your back pain. Since many symptoms are similar to those of other degenerative diseases, more than one test may be required.

Diagnostic Tests for Spinal Stenosis

The first stage in getting diagnosed with spinal stenosis is a documentation of the patient’s medical history. During this time be as thorough as possible mentioning any injuries or traumas, health problems and pre-existing conditions that can help with a diagnosis. Since something like a herniated disc can be a cause of spinal stenosis, tell the physician everything, even if you think it couldn’t possibly be relevant.

Next there will be a physical exam where the doctor will require you to sit, walk, stand, bend, lift your legs and lie down. These movements will allow the physician to monitor your response to every movement, while getting pertinent information from you about what you feel during each of these movements. In some instances the physician may move your legs to check muscle strength and range of motion.

Although an x-ray may not confirm a spinal stenosis diagnosis, it can highlight any injuries or tumors that may be causing the back pain. Since a tumor or injury can cause the spinal canal to narrow, it can help the doctor determine the next test to confirm suspicions.

An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is perhaps the most preferred method of diagnosing spinal stenosis because it allows cross-sections of soft tissue to be highlighted. An MRI can detect tumors, soft tissue damage, the spinal cord and nerve roots, which means the physician can search for signs of degeneration and determine if a spinal stenosis diagnosis is warranted.

A CAT scan offers a three dimensional view of certain sections of the back, specifically it allows the size and shape of the spinal canal to be seen. This gives the doctor a close-up look at the spine to determine if it is misaligned or if the canal is narrowing.

While a myelogram cannot provide confirmation of a spinal stenosis diagnosis, it can determine if one of the causes of spinal stenosis are present. The liquid die used for a myelogram will highlight bone spurs, tumors, herniated discs or any other problem causing pressure on the spinal nerves or spinal cord.

Sometimes a bone scan is used as a step in the diagnostic process because it only shows that there is something wrong with the bone, but offers no specification. The radioactive material injected during a bone scan will attach to the bone in places where it is breaking down or being formed (ossification). If the doctor sees the material attaching to the bone, the next step will be another test to confirm a diagnosis.

Treating Spinal Stenosis

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Once you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis you and your physician will work together to decide what type of treatments and specialists can help treat your symptoms. You may see a physical therapist, rheumatologist, chiropractor, psychologist or a surgeon to help implement your treatment plan.


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