Spinal Stenosis

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Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the open spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that travel through the spine to your arms and legs. Approximately 75% of spinal stenosis occurs in the lower back (lumbar spine) causing pain down the back of the legs. Spinal stenosis can occur in the neck (cervical spine) as well, sometimes generating pain down the legs and arms into the hands.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

While spinal stenosis may cause no signs or symptoms in some people, other people may experience symptoms including:

  • pain
  • tingling
  • numbness
  • muscle weakness
  • problems with normal bladder or bowel function
  • clumsiness
  • pain and difficulty when walking
  • hot or cold feelings in the legs

Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by wear-and-tear changes in the spine related to osteoarthritis. In severe cases of spinal stenosis, your doctor may recommend surgery to create additional space for the spinal cord or nerves.


Spinal stenosis is often difficult to diagnose at first. The symptoms of spinal stenosis can mimic other age-related conditions. Your doctor may order an X-ray, CT scan with contrast, or an MRI to determine if you have narrowing of the spine that may be causing your discomfort.


The primary treatment for radiating back pain begins with changes in posture. Physical therapy may be prescribed to help stretch and strengthen the lower back. Changing positions such as lying with the knees drawn up to the chest can offer some relief. These positions help to enlarge the space available to the nerves and may make it easier for people with stenosis to walk longer distances.

Often, the pressure on the nerves is caused by inflammatory swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) such as aspirin or ibuprofen may help relieve symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe an NSAID or guide you towards an over-the-counter pain reliever for a few days to relieve discomfort.

A period of rest followed by a gradual resumption of activity can help. Activity should be limited until your doctor tells you otherwise.

Surgery is the last alternative to alleviate the pain of spinal stenosis. If other treatments do not ease the pain, surgery may be recommended to relieve the pressure on affected nerves.

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