​Spinal Stenosis

Man showing doctor hurt back

Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows and pinches the nerves. This can happen anywhere in the spine. It can be present at birth as part of a congenital (hereditary) syndrome, however, it’s typically caused by wear and tear as the spine ages (spinal degeneration). 

The two most common forms of spinal stenosis are:

  • Central spinal stenosis—this type of stenosis involves a blockage in the central spinal canal. When the blockage is in the cervical (neck) and thoracic (central) spine, it can disrupt balance and make walking awkward and spastic. When the blockage is in the lumbar (lower) spine, the legs quickly become exhausted after prolonged walking or standing. This is often relieved with rest. 

  • Lateral recess stenosis—this is the most common type of spinal stenosis. It occurs when the rear sides of the spinal canal become narrowed and pinch the nerves that branch out from the spine to the rest of the body. It can also cause back and/or leg pain.

Spinal stenosis symptoms

Central spinal stenosis symptoms include:

  • Difficulty walking

  • Loss of muscle control and weakness in the legs and arms

  • Problems with coordination and balance

  • Tingling or numbness radiating from the neck to the shoulder, arm and hand

Lateral recess stenosis symptoms include: 

  • Pain that travels from the neck down one or both arms

  • Pain that travels from the lower back down one or both legs

  • Weakness, numbness or tingling in the arms or legs

 Spinal stenosis diagnosis

Your doctor may recommend these tests to diagnose spinal stenosis: 

  • CT scans—uses an X-ray beam and a computer to make 2-dimensional images of the spine.

  • MRI scans—uses a magnetic field and radiofrequency waves to give a detailed view of the soft tissues of the spine. 

  • Myelogram—a specialized imaging test where contrast dye is injected into the spinal column during an X-ray or CT scan to get a clearer image. 

  • X-rays—an imaging test that uses electromagnetic waves to create pictures of bony structures like the spine.

Spinal stenosis treatment 

Treatment for spinal stenosis depends on the location of the stenosis. Epidural steroid injections are the most common form of treatment, followed by anti-inflammatory medications. Physical therapy is also a good treatment option.

In some cases, surgery is needed to relieve nerve compression. Surgical options we offer include: 

  • Arthroplasty—an artificial disc replacement used when the stenosis is caused by a diseased or herniated disc.

  • Foraminotomy—a procedure to reduce pressure on compressed nerves by enlarging the space around the vertebrae.

  • Fusion—a procedure to join the spinal vertebrae together. This is often done in conjunction with a decompressive type procedure like foraminotomy.

  • Laminectomy—an operation to remove all or part of the vertebral bone, relieving pressure on the nerves and spinal cord.

  • Laminotomy—surgery to remove a portion of the vertebral arch to relieve pressure in the vertebrae.

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our spine specialists help relieve the debilitating pain of spinal stenosis.

Find a back (spine) and neck specialist near you.