Symptoms and Signs of Spinal Stenosis

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/20/2022

Doctor's Notes on Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal. This limits the amount of space available for the spinal cord and nerves, which compresses the nerves in the spine. Spinal stenosis is most common in the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). The most common cause of spinal stenosis is degenerative arthritis that results from aging.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis depend on where in the spine it occurs and the severity of the narrowing. Symptoms of spinal stenosis caused by compression of the spinal cord are called myelopathy and may include

  • worsening balance,
  • falling,
  • dropping objects,
  • difficulty buttoning buttons or picking up small coins, or
  • loss of control of the bowel and/or bladder.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis caused by compression of the nerves include

  • pain,
  • numbness,
  • tingling, or
  • weakness along the path of the nerve being compressed.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis that develops in the neck include

  • myelopathy,
  • numbness,
  • tingling,
  • weakness, or
  • cramping in the arms and hands.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis that develops in the lower back include

  • pain,
  • numbness,
  • tingling,
  • weakness or
  • cramping in the legs and feet, particularly progressively with walking and being relieved with resting.

What is the treatment for spinal stenosis?

The treatment of spinal stenosis usually begins with decreasing activities along with anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy for about 8 12 weeks. If symptoms do not improve, epidural steroid injections and anti-inflammatory medications may be effective. Surgical techniques may be considered if improvement is minimal or fails. For example:

  • Laminotomy
  • Laminectomy
  • Partial facetectomy
  • Foraminotomy
  • MIS (minimal invasive surgery)
  • Interspinous spacer placement

You and your doctor can choose the best treatment plan for your condition.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.