Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. The spinal canal is located in the backbone. It is a small space that holds the nerve roots and spinal cord. If this space becomes smaller, it can squeeze the nerves and the spinal cord. This causes pain and other symptoms. Stenosis can occur anywhere along the spinal cord. It is most common in the low back (lumbar) region.
Some people are born with narrowed canals. Most often stenosis is a result of aging. Conditions that can cause spinal stenosis include:
Factors that increase your chance of spinal stenosis include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include:
Special exercises can help stabilize the spinal cord. Exercise can increase muscle endurance and mobility of the spine. This can relieve some pain. Sometimes exercises are ineffective against spinal stenosis.
Wearing a corset or lumbar brace can help stabilize the spine. This may relieve pain.
Surgery is reserved for severe cases.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
The Arthritis Society
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org. Accessed July 7, 2009.
Arthritis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.arthritis.org. Accessed July 7, 2009.
Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Medical Information. Home Edition. New York, NY: Merck Research Laboratories; 1999.
Questions & answers about spinal stenosis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Spinal_Stenosis/default.asp. Published April 2009. Accessed July 7, 2009.
Last reviewed September 2011 by John C. Keel, MD