Spinal Stenosis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Spinal Stenosis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the gaps in the spine, can compress the spinal cord and nerve roots that emerge from each vertebra. Changes in your spine due to aging are common causes. In addition to back and/or neck discomfort, symptoms include numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms and legs. Self-care remedies, physical therapy, pharmaceuticals, injections, and surgery are examples of treatments.

Spinal stenosis is the constriction of one or more spinal compartments. Less space within the spine reduces the space available for the spinal cord and nerves that branch off of it. A constricted space can irritate, compress, or pinch the spinal cord or nerves, which can result in back pain and sciatica.

Spinal stenosis typically progresses gradually over time. It is typically caused by osteoarthritis or "wear and tear" changes that occur naturally with aging in the spine.

Where Does Spinal Stenosis Occur?

Spinal Narrowing

Spinal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spine, but happens most frequently in two locations:

  • The lower back (lumbar canal stenosis).
  • Neck (cervical spinal stenosis).

What is the condition of Lumbar Canal Stenosis?

Lumbar canal stenosis is the constriction of the spinal canal or the tunnels via which nerves and other structures enter and exit the canal. The spinal canal typically becomes constricted as a result of aging-related changes that reduce the canal's size, such as the misalignment of one of the vertebrae.

Lumbar canal stenosis is characterized by discomfort, numbness, and weakness in the legs, hips, buttocks, and lower back. Generally, symptoms intensify when walking or standing and may improve when lying down, sitting, or gently leaning forward.

What is the condition of Cervical Spinal Stenosis?

Cervical spinal stenosis is a constriction of the spinal canal and/or spinal nerve root pathways. When this occurs, your spinal cord and/or nerves may become compressed, resulting in pain in your neck, shoulders, and limbs.

Your doctor may refer to cervical myelopathy if cervical spinal stenosis produces spinal cord compression.

A prominent cause of cervical spinal stenosis is degeneration or aging-related wear and tear of the anatomical components in the neck. Because of this, the majority of individuals with cervical spinal stenosis are adults in their 50s and 60s who have experienced neck pain for several years.

Spinal stenosis may also be caused or contributed to by trauma or injury.

Causes of Spinal Stenosis:

Bone Hypertrophy & Arthritic Spurs:

Osteoarthritis is a "wear and tear" condition that degrades cartilage in joints, including the spine. Cartilage is the joint's protective covering. As the cartilage deteriorates, the bones begin to rub together. Your body responds by regenerating bone tissue. Bone spurs, or bone overgrowth, are a common occurrence. Spinal nerves are compressed as a result of vertebral spurs that extend into the spinal canal. Paget's disease of the bone can also result in an overgrowth of bone in the spine, resulting in nerve compression.

Bulging Discs/Herniated Discs:

A flat, spherical cushion (vertebral disc) acts as a stress absorber along the spine. Age-related dehydration and flattening of vertebral discs, as well as breaking of the discs' outer border, cause the gel-like interior of these discs to penetrate a brittle or shredded outer layer. The bulging disc then presses on the surrounding nerves.

Spinal Fractures and Injuries:

Broken or dislocated bones and inflammation caused by damage along the spine can narrow the canal space and/or exert pressure on the spinal nerves.

What Symptoms are Associated with Spinal Stenosis?

Initially, spinal stenosis may or may not be accompanied by symptoms. Typically, spinal canal constriction is a gradual process that worsens over time. Although spinal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spinal column, the most common locations are the lower back and neck. Symptoms vary from individual to individual and may come and go.

Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

The following are symptoms of lower back (lumbar) spinal stenosis:

  • Having lower back pain can range from a subtle ache or discomfort to an electric or searing sensation. Pain can fluctuate.
  • Sciatica pain originates in the buttocks, travels down the leg, and may extend into the foot.
  • A sense of heaviness in the legs may result in cramping in one or both legs.
  • Lack of sensation in the buttocks, leg, or foot.
  • Weakness in the lower extremities.
  • Loss of control of the bladder or bowels (in severe cases).

The following are symptoms of the neck (cervical) spinal stenosis:

  • Neck ache
  • Tingling or numbness in the arm, hand, leg, or foot
  • Arm, hand, leg, or foot weakness or clumsiness
  • Problems with equilibrium
  • Loss of hand function, such as difficulty writing or buttoning clothing

Diagnosis and Treatment of Spinal Stenosis:

  • Diagnosis:

Your doctor will review your medical history, inquire about your symptoms, and perform a physical examination. During your physical examination, your healthcare practitioner may press on different areas of your spine to determine if this creates pain. Your healthcare professional may likely ask you to bend in various directions to determine whether or not certain spinal postures cause pain or other symptoms. Your provider will assess your equilibrium, observe how you move and walk, and evaluate your arm and leg strength.

You will have imaging tests to evaluate your spine and determine its precise position, type, and severity. Imaging investigations may involve the following:

X-rays: X-rays utilize a little amount of radiation and can reveal changes in bone structure, such as the loss of disc height and the formation of bone spurs that narrow the space in the spine.

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates cross-sectional images of the spine using radio waves and a strong magnet. The MRI provides detailed images of nerves, discs, the spinal cord, and the presence of malignancies.

CT scan: A computed tomography (CT) scan, or CT myelogram, is a combination of X-rays that produce cross-sectional pictures of the spine. A contrast dye is added to a CT myelogram to enhance the visibility of the spinal cord and nerves.

  • Treatment:

Treatment options for stenosis depend on the cause of the symptoms, the location of the problem, and the severity of the symptoms. If your symptoms are mild, your healthcare practitioner may first suggest self-care treatments. If these don't help and the condition worsens, your doctor may suggest physical therapy, medication, and perhaps surgery.

Self-help Treatments Consist of:

Spinal Stenosis Exercise

Heat Treatment: Heat is typically the most effective treatment for osteoarthritis pain. The increased blood flow caused by heat relaxes muscles and soothes painful joints. Be cautious when utilizing heat; avoid getting burned by not setting the temperature too high.

Ice Pack: If heat is not relieving your problems, try ice (an ice pack, frozen gel pack, or frozen bag of peas or corn). Typically, 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off are spent applying ice. Icing diminishes swelling, soreness, and inflammation.

Exercising: Exercise is beneficial for alleviating discomfort, strengthening the muscles that support your spine, and enhancing your flexibility and balance.

Neck Brace for Spinal Stenosis: The product could be used as self-treatment and the treatment is quite effective in treating spinal stenosis. A neck pain support brace supports the chin and neck while restricting neck motion.

Back Brace for Spinal Stenosis:  Back posture support brace relieves lower back pain immediately by reducing spinal pressure during healing by preventing or inhibiting uncomfortable spine movements, such as bending and twisting.

Non-surgical treatments include the following:

Oral Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) –  can help reduce inflammation and alleviate spinal stenosis-related discomfort. Discuss with your healthcare practitioner the potential long-term side effects of these medications, such as acid reflux and stomach ulcers. Other prescription drugs having pain-relieving characteristics, such as the anticonvulsant gabapentin or tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, may be recommended by your doctor (Elavil). 

Physical Therapy: Physical therapists will build a back-healthy exercise program to help you increase strength and improve your balance, flexibility, and spinal stability. Strengthening your back and abdominal muscles – your core — will increase the resilience of your spine. Physical therapists can instruct patients on how to walk in a manner that opens the spinal canal, thereby relieving pressure on the nerves.


Unfortunately, spinal stenosis has no known remedy. The symptoms typically manifest gradually and intensify over time. The good news is that you can treat spinal stenosis by using a neck brace, a back pain support brace, or by engaging in regular exercise and utilizing over-the-counter pain medications.

In extremely rare instances, severe spinal stenosis that is left untreated can worsen and result in permanent weakness, numbness, balance issues, paralysis, and incontinence.

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