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Spinal Stenosis

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

The spine, a row of 26 bones in your back, allows you to stand up straight and bend over. The spine also protects your spinal cord from being hurt. In people with spinal stenosis, the spine is narrowed in one or more of three parts:

This narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves and can cause pain.

Who Gets Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is most common in men and women over 50 years old. Younger people who were born with a narrow spinal canal or who hurt their spines may also get spinal stenosis.

What Causes Spinal Stenosis?


Changes that occur in the spine as people get older are the most common cause of spinal stenosis. As people get older:


In some cases arthritis, a degenerative (gets worse over time) condition can cause spinal stenosis. Two forms of arthritis may affect the spine: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


  • The most common form of arthritis
  • Most often occurs in middle-aged and older people
  • Doesn't go away
  • May involve many joints in the body
  • Wears away the tough tissue (cartilage) that keeps the joints in place
  • Causes bone spurs and problems with joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis:

  • Affects most people at a younger age than osteoarthritis
  • Causes the soft tissues of the joints to swell and can affect the internal organs and systems
  • Is not a common cause of spinal stenosis
  • Can cause severe damage, especially to joints.

Inherited Conditions

Some people are born with conditions that cause spinal stenosis. For instance, some people are born with a small spinal canal. Others are born with a curved spine (scoliosis).

Other Causes

Other causes of spinal stenosis are:

What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?

There may be no symptoms of spinal stenosis, or symptoms may appear slowly and get worse over time. Signs of spinal stenosis include:

One type of spinal stenosis, cauda equine syndrome, is very serious. This type occurs when there is pressure on nerves in the lower back. Symptoms may include:

If you have any of these symptoms, you should call your doctor right away.

How Is Spinal Stenosis Diagnosed?

To diagnose spinal stenosis, your doctor will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. Your doctor may also order one or more tests, such as:

Who Treats Spinal Stenosis?

Because spinal stenosis has many causes and symptoms, you may require treatment from doctors who specialize in certain aspects of the condition. Based on your symptoms, your doctor may refer you to:

What Are Some Nonsurgical Treatments for Spinal Stenosis?

There are many nonsurgical treatments for spinal stenosis. Your doctor may prescribe:

When Should Surgery Be Considered?

Your doctor will likely suggest nonsurgical treatment first unless you have:

Your doctor will take many factors into account in deciding if surgery is right for you. These include:

What Are Some Alternative Treatments for Spinal Stenosis?

Alternative treatments are those that are not part of standard treatment. For spinal stenosis, such treatments include chiropractic treatment and acupuncture. More research is needed on the value of these treatments. Your doctor may suggest alternative treatments in addition to standard treatments.

What Research Is Being Done on Spinal Stenosis?

Questions about spinal stenosis that scientists are trying to answer include:


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