What is it?

What is spinal stenosis? 

In people with spinal stenosis, the spine is narrowed in one or more areas:

  • The space at the center of the spine.
  • The canals where nerves branch out from the spine.
  • The space between the bones of the spine.

This narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves and can cause pain.

An anatomical illustration depicting a section of the spine, including the spinal cord, nerve roots, vertebra, and intervertebral disk.

Who gets it?

Who gets spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is most common in men and women over 50 years old. Younger people who were born with a narrow spinal canal or who hurt their spines may also get spinal stenosis.

What are the symptoms?

What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?

There may be no symptoms of spinal stenosis, or symptoms may appear slowly and get worse over time. Signs include:

  • Pain in the neck or back.
  • Numbness, weakness, cramping, or pain in the arms or legs.
  • Pain going down the leg.
  • Foot problems.

A serious type of spinal stenosis occurs when there is pressure on nerves in the lower back. You should call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Loss of control of the bowel or bladder.
  • Problems having sex.
  • Pain, weakness, or loss of feeling in one or both legs.

What causes it?

What causes spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis could be caused by a number of things, including:

  • Getting older, which can cause changes in the spine. This is the most common cause.
  • Arthritis can affect the spine in some cases.
  • Inherited conditions, which you are born with, can affect the spine. For example, you might have been born with a small spinal canal or a curved spine.
  • Tumors of the spine.
  • Injuries.
  • Paget’s disease (a disease that affects the bones).
  • Too much fluoride in the body.
  • Calcium deposits on ligaments that run along the spine.

Is there a test?

Is there a test for spinal stenosis?

To diagnose spinal stenosis, your doctor may do the following:

  • Ask you about your medical history.
  • Give you a physical exam.
  • Take pictures of your spine.

How is it treated?

How is spinal stenosis treated?

Spinal stenosis may be treated by:

  • Medications to reduce swelling or pain.
  • Braces for your lower back.
  • Alternative treatments, such as chiropractic treatment and acupuncture. More research is needed on the value of these treatments. 
  • Surgery, if you have:
    • Symptoms that get in the way of walking.
    • Problems with bowel or bladder function.
    • Problems with your nervous system.

Who treats it?

Who treats spinal stenosis?

Because spinal stenosis has many causes and symptoms, you may require treatment from different doctors such as:

  • Rheumatologists, who treat arthritis and other diseases of the bones, joints, and muscles.
  • Neurologists and neurosurgeons, who treat diseases of the nervous system.
  • Orthopedic surgeons, who treat problems with the bones, joints, and ligaments.
  • Physical therapists, who help improve function.

Living With It

Living with spinal stenosis

Your doctor may recommend the following to help you live with spinal stenosis:

  • Limits on your activity.
  • Exercise and/or physical therapy. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program before beginning.
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