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Spinal Stenosis: Symptoms & Causes (part 1)

Spinal Stenosis: Symptoms & Causes

What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of one or more spaces within your spine. Less space within your spine reduces the amount of space available for your spinal cord and nerves that branch off your spinal cord. A tightened space can cause the spinal cord or nerves to become irritated, compressed or pinched, which can lead to back pain and sciatica.

Spinal stenosis usually develops slowly over time. It is most commonly caused by osteoarthritis or changes that naturally occur in your spine as you age. For this reason, you may not have any symptoms for a long time even though some changes might be seen on imaging tests if taken for another reason. Depending on where and how severe your spinal stenosis is, you might feel pain, numbing, tingling and/or weakness in your neck, back, arms, legs, hands or feet.

In spinal stenosis, the space around the nerve roots and spinal cord itself gets tighter often pinching the nerves and causing pain.

Where does spinal stenosis occur?

Spinal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spine but most commonly occurs in two areas:

What is lumbar canal stenosis?

Lumbar canal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal or the tunnels through which nerves and other structures communicate with that canal. Narrowing of the spinal canal usually occurs due to changes associated with aging that decrease the size of the canal, including the movement of one of the vertebrae out of alignment.

The narrowing of the spinal canal or the side canals that protect the nerves often results in a pinching of the nerve root of the spinal cord. The nerves become increasingly irritated as the diameter of the canal becomes narrower.

Symptoms of lumbar canal stenosis include pain, numbness or weakness in the legs, groin, hips, buttocks, and lower back. Symptoms usually worsen when walking or standing and might decrease when lying down, sitting, or leaning slightly forward.

Who gets spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis can develop in anyone but is most common in men and women over the age of 50. Younger people who are born with a narrow spinal canal can also have spinal stenosis. Other conditions that affect the spine, such as scoliosis, or injury to the spine can put you at risk for developing spinal stenosis.


What causes spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis has many causes. What they share in common is that they change the structure of the spine, causing a narrowing of the space around your spinal cord and nerves roots that exit through the spine. The spinal cord and/or nerve roots become compressed or pinched, which causes symptoms, such as low back pain and sciatica.

The causes of spinal stenosis include:


A bulging vertebral disk and bone growths (spurs) on the vertebral bones take up space and therefore narrow the space for your nerve roots and spinal cord.

Herniated disks and bone spurs are two common causes of spinal stenosis.

What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?

You may or may not have symptoms when spinal stenosis first develops. The narrowing of the spinal canal is usually a slow process and worsens over time. Although spinal stenosis can happen anywhere along the spinal column, the lower back (number one most common area) and neck are common areas. Symptoms vary from person to person and may come and go.

Symptoms of lower back (lumbar) spinal stenosis include:

Symptoms of neck (cervical) spinal stenosis include:

Symptoms of abdomen (thoracic) spinal stenosis include:

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