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Lumbar Spinal Stenosis (cont.)

Exams and Tests

Lumbar spinal stenosis can usually be diagnosed based on your history of symptoms, a physical exam, and imaging tests—tests that produce various kinds of pictures of your body. These tests include:

  • MRI, to check your spinal nerves and look for disc problems.
  • CT scan, to check your bones and joints.
  • X-rays, to measure the extent of arthritis or injuries to the vertebrae.
  • Bone scan, to rule out cancer and other bone diseases.
  • Electromyogram and nerve conduction tests to see if other problems may be causing or adding to your symptoms.
  • Myelogram, to look for narrowing of the spinal canal or abnormalities of the nerves branching off the canal. This is rarely used to diagnose spinal stenosis.

Your doctor may try nonsurgical treatment, such as pain-relieving medicines, exercise, and physical therapy, for a period of time before ordering imaging tests. If treatment works, you may not need tests.

Imaging tests can help confirm a diagnosis or rule out other problems. But even if imaging shows spinal stenosis, your symptoms may not match the results of the tests. So treatment is based on what your symptoms are and how much spinal stenosis is impacting your life, not just on the results of imaging tests.

Treatment Overview

The goals of treatment for spinal stenosis are to relieve pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs, to make it easier for you to move around, and to improve your quality of life.

Treatments include:

  • Home treatment, such as exercising, using over-the-counter pain medicines, and losing extra weight.
  • Prescription medicines to relieve pain.
  • Physical therapy, to provide education, instruction, and support for your self-care.
  • Surgery, although most cases don't need this treatment.
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