Spinal stenosis, or narrowing, is a common condition that occurs when the small spinal canal that contains the nerve roots and spinal cord becomes restricted. This narrowing can squeeze the nerves and the spinal cord, causing lower back and leg pain. People suffering from spinal stenosis have trouble walking any significant distance and frequently must sit or lean forward.
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Explore This IssueJanuary 2008
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Anyone over age 50 is at risk for spinal stenosis, and it is more common in women. Conditions that can cause spinal stenosis include osteoarthritis, osteophytes (bony spurs) associated with aging, inflammatory spondyloarthritis, Paget’s disease of the bone, spinal tumors, trauma, and previous surgeries. Typically, a person with spinal stenosis complains about developing tremendous pain in the legs or calves and lower back after walking. Pain comes on more quickly when walking up hills. Typically, this is immediately relieved by sitting down or leaning over. When the spine is bent forward, more space is available for the spinal cord, reducing symptoms.
“Doctors will ask your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam if spinal stenosis is suspected,” write fact sheet co-authors, Piercarlo Sarzi-Puttini, MD and Elinor Mody, MD. Symptoms of spinal stenosis include numbness, weakness, cramping, or pain in the legs and thighs; radiating pain down the leg; abnormal bowel and/or bladder function; decreased sensation in the feet (causing difficulty placing the feet when walking); loss of sexual function; and/or partial or complete leg paralysis.
Although there is no cure for spinal stenosis, various therapies are available. The most important therapy is exercise, but medications and surgery are also options.
Download the complete spinal stenosis fact sheet and other patient education materials at www.rheumatology.org by following the links to patient education from the Practice Support menu.