This condition is a narrowing of the spinal canal that results from degeneration of bones in the spine, disc herniation, or thickening of the tissues that surround the spinal cord.

Who Is Affected?Spinal stenosis refers to the shrinking or narrowing of the spinal canal. The reduction in the size of the spinal canal can be congenital (present at birth) but is more common as a developmental problem (meaning it occurs as we grow older.) As the spinal canal narrows, there is less room for the nerves to branch out and move freely. As a result, they may become swollen and inflamed, which can cause pain. Spinal stenosis can be caused by arthritic changes, injury or surgery.

Symptoms may start slowly or occur as a sudden onset of pain. The condition affects both males and females and is most common between the ages of 50 and 70. Individuals with spinal stenosis may experience vague pain in the low back and legs when walking or standing. As the disease progresses, the symptoms increase with walking shorter distances and standing.

Nonsurgical treatment for stenosis can include the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy. Rest, analgesics, muscle relaxants and application of ice may be helpful in the acute stages.

Common conservative treatment for pain relief is epidural steroid injections. This procedure involves the injection of steroids and an analgesic numbing agent into the epidural space of the spine to reduce the swelling and inflammation of the nerves.

Spinal stenosis can be difficult to treat definitively without surgery. Depending on the location of the stenosis, one of two surgical options is available.

  • One option is to make an entrance through the lamina, or bony arched portion of the vertebra, to give the nerves more space.
  • Another option can be considered when spinal stenosis has constricted the foraminal openings in the vertebra that provide a passageway for the nerves. This procedure, called a foraminotomy, enlarges the foramen to free up space for the nerves and decrease inflammation.

Following surgery to treat spinal stenosis, most patients stay in the hospital for two or three days and are back to full activity in about six weeks.