Spinal Stenosis: Overview and More


Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that causes compression of the spinal cord and / or nerve roots. The resulting pain and numbness (in the hands, arms, legs, and / or feet) can vary depending on the area where the compression occurs. The most common cause of spinal stenosis is "wear and tear" arthritis (called osteoarthritis), although there are other possibilities, including a bulging disc .

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Types and symptoms of spinal stenosis

Your spinal canal runs through each vertebra and protects your spinal cord and lumbar nerve roots.

Spinal stenosis most often occurs in the lower back (called lumbar stenosis ) and in the neck (called cervical stenosis ).

Lumbar stenosis

  • Back pain

  • Pain, tingling, or weakness in one or both legs

  • Symptoms usually appear when walking or standing up.

  • Symptoms disappear after sitting or bending over.

Cervical stenosis

  • Pain in the neck

  • Neck stiffness

  • Pain, weakness, or numbness in the hands, arms, and legs.

Very rarely, the thoracic region (from the middle to the upper back) of the spine (called thoracic stenosis ) is affected.

The most common symptoms of thoracic spinal stenosis include :

  • Pain, numbness and / or weakness in the legs
  • Unstable gait
  • Back pain

In severe cases of spinal canal stenosis, a person may experience bladder, bowel, or sexual function disorders and even paralysis .


Spinal stenosis can be congenital, and some people have a narrow spinal canal from birth. But more often, spinal canal stenosis is acquired as a result of osteoarthritis of the spine .

Thickening of the back ligaments and bulging intervertebral discs can also cause spinal stenosis .

Other causes of spinal stenosis include trauma, swelling, and infection.

Factors that can increase your risk of developing spinal stenosis include :

  • Be over 50 years old
  • To be a woman
  • Previous spinal injury or spinal surgery
  • Obesity (with lumbar stenosis)
  • Cumulative trauma
  • Smoking cigars


The diagnosis of spinal stenosis often requires a multifaceted approach that includes history, physical examination, and imaging studies .

History and physical exam

When you meet with your healthcare provider, they will ask about your specific symptoms, including their severity and duration.

A physical exam of the neck, back, and extremities will also be done. Specifically, your healthcare professional will check your reflexes, assess muscle weakness and sensory disturbances, and monitor your gait , balance, and pain level.


Imaging tests are commonly used to confirm the diagnosis of spinal stenosis and to rule out alternative diagnoses.

Commonly ordered imaging tests to diagnose spinal stenosis include:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) : MRI of the spine is the best test to diagnose spinal stenosis. It can pinpoint the exact location of the stenosis and help determine what is putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.
  • Computed Tomography (CT): Computed tomography is more difficult than X-rays and can reveal areas of compression in the spinal canal, as well as bone growths from osteoarthritis (called bone spurs ) and fractures.
  • X- rays : An X-ray of the spine can be helpful in determining the cause of a person's spinal stenosis, such as a tumor in the spine, trauma, spinal arthritis , or an inherited abnormality.
  • Myelogram : A myelogram is similar to a CT scan, but involves the injection of a dye into the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and nerves. This test can be used in people who cannot get an MRI (for example, patients with pacemakers).

Blood tests and others

Buddha tests and other tests may be ordered to help diagnose certain causes of spinal stenosis (such as Paget's disease) or rule out other possible diagnoses.

A test called electromyography (EMG) may also be done to diagnose spinal stenosis. This test measures how well the nerves that originate in the spine are working.

Watch out

Spinal stenosis is incurable and generally worsens over time. In most cases, spinal stenosis is treated conservatively with medications and physical therapy that can improve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be required .


If you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, you may be referred for physical therapy. A physical therapist can advise you on exercises to help maintain and strengthen your muscles, especially your arms and thighs.

Regular exercise can also help relieve pain and improve spinal mobility. If you are unable to exercise due to pain, you can begin bending exercises and gradually walking or swimming for 30 minutes, three times a week.


Nonsteroidal anti- inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) , muscle relaxants, and cortisone injections are often used to relieve pain and inflammation from spinal stenosis.


Surgery is possible when all else fails, although most people with spinal stenosis do not need surgery.

Various surgical methods are used to treat spinal stenosis. An example of this is a decompression laminectomy, which removes a build-up of bone in the spinal canal. Sometimes spinal fusion surgery is done at the same time as this procedure.

Complementary treatments

Although there is little scientific evidence to support its benefits, one or more additional treatments (used under the guidance of your healthcare provider) may be included in your treatment plan to help relieve pain from spinal stenosis.

Some of these treatments may include:

Get the word of drug information

You cannot stop the progression of spinal stenosis. However, with the right treatment plan that includes a combination of regular exercise and medication, you can optimize pain control and mobility and live well.

If you or a loved one suffers from spinal stenosis, it is recommended that you consult with someone who specializes in back conditions, such as a rheumatologist or physical therapist , for expert advice on your condition.

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