Spinal Stenosis: Symptomsm, Causes, Treatment and Diagnosis

spinal stenosis symptoms

Spinal Stenosis is a condition that occurs when the abnormal narrowing of the spinal cord.

Stenosis means narrowing under abnormal condition. It occurs in the back region or throughout the spine due to chronic degeneration of the intervertebral discs.

This narrowing of the spinal disc exerts unwanted pressure on the spine and nerves as well causing debilitating pain.

Although it causes pain in the lower back region, it may also expand to thighs and legs.

There are three types of spinal stenosis:

  • Cervical Spinal Stenosis, which occurs in the neck area,
  • Lumbar Spinal Stenosis, in the lumbar region, and
  • Thoracic Spinal Stenosis that happens in the mid back region.

Stenosis refers to the narrowing of a canal, in this case, is the narrowing of the spinal canal.

The spine, also known as the vertebral column, is responsible for allowing you to stand up straight and to bend.

This backbone is composed of 26 bones (vertebrae) all in a row along the back, and also protects the spinal cord from possible damage.


Some of the common signs to look for include chronic pain in the back, neck, and shoulders. Tingling sensation in the back, hands, leg and other areas.

Numbness, weakness, discomfort, fever, stress, fatigue, excruciating pain when lying down, sudden weight loss, nocturnal pain, and structural deformity.

However, under severe circumstances, it may show signs of certain neurological diseases such as radiculopathy, pinched nerve, and Cauda equina syndrome.

You may not have symptoms of spinal stenosis, or the symptoms may appear slowly and worsen over time. Signs of spinal stenosis include:

  • Pain in the neck or back
  • Numbness, weakness, cramps, or pain in the arms or legs
  • Pain that goes down the leg
  • Problems with the feet.

There is a type of spinal stenosis that is very serious, equine tail syndrome or ponytail. This occurs when there is pressure on the nerves of the lower back. In such cases symptoms may include:

  • Loss of control of the bowels or bladder
  • Problems having sex
  • Pain, weakness, or loss of feeling in one or both legs.

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


The causes are common in most cases with few differences depending on the situation. Including:

  • Aging, the most common cause of the inflexibility of the spinal discs, loss of fluid, thickening of the ligaments, bone spurs, wear and tear of the vertebrae.
  • Genetic factors or heredity, like narrowing spinal cord during birth.
  • Arthritis and osteoarthritis may lead to spinal stenosis and spondylitis.
  • Injury or trauma may result in narrowing or dislocation of the spine.
  • Cyst or tumor in the spine may result in spinal stenosis.


Changes that occur in the spine during aging are the most common cause of spinal stenosis. Aging can cause:

  • The bands of tissue that support the spine become thick and hard
  • Bones and joints increase in size
  • Bumps start developing on the surfaces of the bones (which are called spurs).


In some cases, arthritis (a degenerative condition that worsens over time) can cause spinal stenosis. Two forms of arthritis that can affect the spine are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


It is the most common form of arthritis. It often occurs in middle-aged or older adults. This condition does not disappear.

It can affect several joints of the body, wear the tissue that serves as a pad between bones (cartilage), cause spurs and joint problems.

Rheumatoid arthritis:

This condition mostly affects people who are younger than those with osteoarthritis. It causes swelling of the soft tissue of the joints and negatively impact the internal organs and systems

It is not a common cause of spinal stenosis. But it can still cause severe damage, especially to the joints.

Hereditary conditions

Some people are born with conditions that cause spinal stenosis. For example, some people are born with a narrow spinal canal. Others are born with a curvature of the spine (scoliosis).

Other causes

Other causes of spinal stenosis may include:

  • Tumors of the spine
  • Injuries
  • Paget’s bone disease (a disease that affects the bones)
  • Too much fluoride in the body
  • Calcium deposits in the ligaments along the spine.

Treatment for Spinal Stenosis

The procedure can be carried out in two ways depending on the intensity of the pain and severity of the dislocation.

In case of mild situation, non-surgical treatments like medication, physical therapy, aerobics, weight loss and change in lifestyle help a lot.

On the other hand, if the condition is too severe, surgery is the ideal treatment.

There are several types of treatments for spinal stenosis that do not require surgery. Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Medications to Reduce Bloating
  • Pain Relief Medications
  • Limits in their activities
  • Exercises or physiotherapy
  • An orthopedic corset for the lower back.

When should surgery be considered?

Your doctor will probably first suggest that you try treatments that do not require surgery; Unless you have:

  • Symptoms that stop you from walking
  • Problems with bowel or bladder function
  • Problems with the nervous system.

Your doctor will consider several factors before deciding whether surgery is right for you. These factors include:

  • The success you have achieved with treatments that do not require surgery
  • The degree of pain
  • The preferences you have.

What are some alternative treatments for spinal stenosis?

Alternative treatments are those that are not part of the standardized procedure. For spinal stenosis, these treatments include chiropractic and acupuncture treatment.

Experts still need more research to confirm the validity of these treatments. Your doctor may suggest that you follow alternative methods in addition to standardized procedures.

Who has spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is common in men and women over 50 years. Others who may have spinal stenosis are young people who were born with a narrow spinal canal or those who have injured their spine.

How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?

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

  • X-rays
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) -a test that uses electromagnetic waves to see the spine
  • Computed tomography (CT) – a series of x-rays that give the doctor a detailed picture of the vertebral column.
  • Myelogram-a test in which the doctor injects a liquid dye into the spine
  • Bone scan – a test in which the patient gets injected with a radioactive substance that shows where the bone is breaking or forming.

Who treats spinal stenosis?

Because spinal stenosis has many causes and symptoms, you may need several treatments with doctors who specialize in certain aspects of this condition.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may refer you to:

  • Rheumatologists (doctors who treat arthritis and related conditions)
  • Neurologists and neurosurgeons (doctors who treat diseases of the nervous system)
  • Orthopedic Surgeons (doctors who treat problems with bones, joints, and ligaments)
  • Physiotherapists.