Spinal stenosis can affect one or more regions of the spine. There are four sections of the spine. Listed from top to bottom, they are the Cervical spine, Thoracic spine, Lumbar spine, and Sacrum & coccyx. Most commonly, stenosis occurs within the lumbar and cervical spines. This means that it most commonly affects the areas of the neck or the lower back. If you require surgery to relieve your stenosis, you will likely be disabled for 6 months to a year while you recover.
What are the Debilitating Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?
Depending on what part of your spine is affected, and how severe it is, you may experience a number of painful symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms may include:
- Back pain
- Burning pain or ache that radiates down the legs
- Pain that worsens as you sit or stand, but gets better with flexion
- Pinched nerves
- Weakness or cramping in the legs and feet
- Numbness or tingling in the legs and feet
Spinal Stenosis in the neck may also include the following symptoms:
- Neck pain
- Radiating numbness down the arms and into the hands
- Weakness in the arms and hands
Additionally, in more severe cases, individuals may experience problems with their bowels, bladder, or sexual functions.
Treatment Options for Spinal Stenosis
In most cases, surgery is not the first choice for most doctors. Generally, treatment options begin with the prescription of NSAID pain relievers, chiropractic decompression, and/or physical therapy. If your symptoms are severe and persistent enough, your doctor may recommend a surgical consultation. There are three types of surgeries for reducing spinal stenosis.
A Laminectomy is a common procedure for reducing spinal pressure. The surgeon removes a portion of the vertebrae causing the pressure in order to provide room. The surgeon will also remove bone spurs that may have formed on the vertebrae. This gives the nerves and spinal cord enough room to function normally.
A Foraminotomy procedure expands the foramen of affected vertebrae. The foramen is a small hole that lets the root nerves leave the spinal column. The nerves can then avoid being pinched by the spine.
During a Spinal Fusion procedure, the surgeon fuses 2 or more vertebrae together to help restore the spine’s natural curvature. The fusion is usually done with bone grafts, metal rods, or screws. The bones then grow together over time, providing a rigid structure.
Recovery time for any of the 3 procedures above will generally range from six months to a year or more. You may also need time for physical therapy during your recovery period. During this time, you will likely be considered disabled and unable to work.
How Do Insurance Companies Look At Spinal Stenosis?
Long-term disability insurance companies will usually look at how your stenosis affects your ability to sit, stand, or walk. If you have a sedentary job, your insurance company will want to see if you can tolerate sitting at your desk for the majority of the day. Talk with your doctor about recommended lengths of sitting time, and how long you should stay sitting throughout the day. They may be able to give you an assessment that can provide the insurance company with a better understanding of your condition.
For jobs that require you to be on your feet more, your doctor can assess the amount of time you can stand or walk for. They may also give you an amount of time you should stay on your feet for.
Overall, the doctor’s assessment can be important in determining if you require disability coverage, and when you are able to return to work towards the end of your surgery recovery period.