Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal cord, or narrowing of the openings (called neural foramina) where spinal nerves leave the spinal column.
Spinal stenosis usually occurs as a person ages and the disks become drier and start to shrink. At the same time, the bones and ligaments of the spine swell or grow larger due to arthritis or long-term swelling (inflammation).
Spinal stenosis may also be caused by:
• Arthritis of the spine, usually in middle-aged or elderly people
• Bone diseases, such as Paget’s disease of bone and achondroplasia
• Defect or growth in the spine that was present from birth (congenital defect)
• Herniated or slipped disk, which often happened in the past
• Injury that causes pressure on the nerve roots or the spinal cord
• Tumors in the spine
• Poor posture
Often, symptoms will get worse slowly over time. Most often, symptoms will be on one side of the body or the other.
- Numbness, cramping, or pain in the back, buttocks, thighs, or calves, or in the neck, shoulders, or arms
- Weakness of part of a leg or arm
Symptoms are more likely to be present or get worse when you stand or walk. They will often lessen or disappear when you sit down or lean forward. Most people with spinal stenosis cannot walk for a long period of time.
To test nerve function, the doctor will use a rubber hammer to check your reflexes. Touching your legs in many places with a pin, cotton swab, or feather tests how well you feel. Your doctor will tell you to speak up if there are areas where you have less feeling from the pin, cotton, or feather.
A brain/nervous syregenerative (neurological) examination can confirm leg weakness and decreased sensation in the legs. The following tests may be done:
- Spinal MRI or spinal CT scan
- X-ray of the spine