Last month former vice president Dick Cheney went in for elective back surgery. According to Reuters, the surgery was elective and for a condition called spinal stenosis. This is a commonly treated problem at the Spine Center. So, for those of you who have no idea what spinal stenosis is and are interested in knowing what kind of surgery is done for this; here you go.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a general term for narrowing of the spinal canal or where the spinal nerves come out of the spine. Our spines are made up of bones (vertebrae) that stack up on top of each other from our tailbone to our neck. There is a canal that runs through all these bones and inside is the spinal cord. The spinal cord sends branches or nerve roots out through exit holes in the spine. These nerve roots further branch out to become the nerves in our arms legs and the rest of our body. Spinal stenosis is when the canal or the exit holes get blocked and put pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. The blockage can happen for lots of reasons but the most common one is changes in the spine that happen with old age. In fact, most spinal stenosis patients are over 65 years old (Cheney is 68). The symptoms of spinal stenosis in the low back can include, pain in the back or legs, numbness and tingling in the legs, or loss of motor control of the legs. Usually these symptoms are made worse with standing up straight or walking.
What surgery can be done?
First of all, surgery is typically not the first line of treatment. Patients are usually given physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, and pain management. If these more conservative treatments fail then surgery is considered. The most likely surgical procedure is called a decompressive laminectomy. What that means is that pressure is taken off the spinal cord and or nerve roots. This involves removing part of the bone called the lamina ( + ectomy means to remove -hence the name) behind the spinal cord and or cleaning out the exit holes we mentioned. The procedure is done under general anesthesia, and usually requires a brief hospital stay. Patients are encouraged to walk the day after surgery.
For people with spinal stenosis it is more comfortable to sit. Standing or walking usually makes their symptoms worse.
Photo from HuffingtonPost.com
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