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What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal canal narrows and pinches the nerves. The spinal canal contains the nerve roots and spinal cord. Depending on where the narrowing occurs, pain may be felt in the lower back, legs, neck, shoulders, or arms.

In adults ages 50 and older, the risk of developing spinal stenosis increases. Younger people who are born with a small spinal canal may also develop symptoms. Aging can cause the tissues that connect the spine and bones (ligaments) to become thicker and calcified. The disks between vertebrae break down. Growths called bone spurs may happen on bones and into the spinal canal. Degeneration may also lead to curvature of the spine. All of these conditions tighten the spinal canal. This causes spinal stenosis.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Back and leg pain

  • Trouble walking

  • Leg numbness

  • Tingling feeling

  • A hot or cold feeling

  • Weakness

  • A heavy, tired feeling in the legs

  • Clumsiness or frequent falls

Often, bending forward will lessen the pain, such as by leaning onto a shopping cart at the grocery store.

If you notice any of the above symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider.

Treatment

If you notice any symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider. They may advise treatment such as:

  • Pain¬†medicine or corticosteroid injections to reduce swelling and pain

  • Posture changes

  • Physical therapy

  • Weight loss

  • Surgery

Surgical procedures

Surgery is considered after other treatments have not improved symptoms, and when the benefits of surgery are greater than the possible risks. In some cases, surgery may be urgently needed due to severe weakness or loss of bowel and bladder function. Common procedures used for this condition are:

  • Decompression (laminectomy). This surgery removes the bone and soft tissues of the spine that are pinching the nerves.

  • Spinal fusion. This surgery is done when there is a contributing deformity of the vertebra or curvature of the spine. It permanently fuses 2 or more vertebrae together. A piece of bone, often taken from the hip, is used to complete the fusion. Screws and rods may be used to hold the bones together while they mend. This can also speed recovery time.

Prevention

Prevention should also be a main focus. This includes:

  • Staying physically fit and getting regular exercise. This can help lead to a healthier spine by improving endurance and strengthening the back muscles.

  • Staying at a healthy weight. This reduces the load placed on the spine.

  • Not smoking. Smoking may help lead to the spine breaking down faster than the normal aging process.

Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph Campellone MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2021
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