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. In general, spinal narrowing is caused by osteoarthritis, or “wear and tear” arthritis, of the spinal column. This results in a “pinching” of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots.
People suffering from spinal stenosis have trouble walking any significant distance, and frequently must sit or lean over forward on a grocery cart, countertop or assistive device such as a walker. While there are no cures, there are many therapies available.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of one or more areas of the spine. This narrowing, which occurs most often in lumbar region (lower back) can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves branching out from the compressed areas.
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. This is usually very reproducible and immediately relieved by sitting down, or leaning over. When the spine is bent forward, more space is available for the spinal cord, causing a reduction in symptoms.
Although symptoms may arise from narrowing of the spinal canal, not all patients with narrowing develop symptoms. Why some patients develop symptomatic stenosis and others do not remains unknown. Therefore, the term spinal stenosis refers not to the finding of spinal canal narrowing, but rather to manifestation of lower extremity pain caused by compression on the affected nerves.
Unless the individual is born with a small spinal canal (congenital stenosis), spinal narrowing most commonly results from progressive degenerative changes. This “acquired spinal stenosis” can occur from the narrowing of the space around the spinal cord due to bony overgrowth from osteoarthritis combined with thickening of one of the ligaments in the back, and a bulge of the intervertebral discs.