Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. This can put pressure on the nerves or spinal cord.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Some people are born with a small spinal canal. It can also happen with aging. Other things that may cause it are:
- Osteoarthritis and osteophytes (bony spurs) from aging
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal tumors
- Paget disease of the bone
It is most common in people over 60 years of age. Things that may raise the risk are:
- Defects in the spine
- Prior injury or surgery of the spine
- Having Paget disease of the bone
- Achondroplastic dwarfism
- Acromegaly—too much growth hormone
Spinal stenosis causes pain and other symptoms. Stenosis can occur anywhere along the spinal cord. It is most common in the low back (lumbar) region.
Spinal stenosis may cause:
- Spreading pain in the lower back, buttock, or lower limb
- Problems walking
- Numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling in the feet
- Weak muscles
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Images may be taken of your spinal canal. This can be done with:
The electrical activity of your nerves, nerve roots, and muscle tissue may be measured. This can be done with electromyography.
There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. Options may be:
- Medicine to ease pain and swelling
- A corset or brace to keep the spine stable
- Exercises to keep the spine stable and promote strength and motion
Some people with severe symptoms may need surgery to take pressure off of the nerves or spinal cord. Options are:
- Decompression laminectomy to remove part of the vertebra, ligaments, and/or bone spurs to make room for the nerves and spinal cord
- Spinal fusion to fuse 2 vertebrae together to support the spine. This is almost always done after decompression laminectomy.
There are no guidelines to prevent spinal stenosis.
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
The Arthritis Society
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Delitto A, Piva SR, et al. Surgery versus nonsurgical treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis: A randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(7):465-473.
Kreiner DS, Shaffer WO, et al; North American Spine Society. Evidence-based clinical guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis (update). Spine J. 2013 Jul;13(7):734-743.
Lumbar spinal stenosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/lumbar-spinal-stenosis. Updated January 24, 2019. Accessed September 30, 2019.
Spinal stenosis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Spinal_Stenosis/default.asp. Updated August 2016. Accessed September 30, 2019.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 9/8/2020