Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis in the narrowing of the spinal canal or exit place of the spinal nerves, called the intervertebral foramina. This narrowing can compress the nerves of the spine. Often, stenosis occurs in the lumbar (lower back) or cervical (neck) spine.

What’s in this section?

Signs and symptoms

If the spinal stenosis has not compressed the nerves, you may not have symptoms. If there is compression of the nerves, symptoms depend on the location and severity of the stenosis. 

Common lumbar stenosis symptoms include:

  • Back pain
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in the leg or foot
  • Pain or cramping in one or both legs
    • Made worse with standing or walking
    • Made better with sitting or bending forward

Common cervical stenosis symptoms include:

  • Neck pain
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in the arm, hand, leg or foot
  • Difficulty walking or balancing


Diagnosis of spinal stenosis starts with a physical exam and medical history. Other procedures and tests may be needed to diagnose spinal stenosis, including x-rays , computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Treatment options

There are different treatment options depending on the severity and location of the spinal stenosis:

  • Medication to control the pain.
  • Physical therapy to strengthen surrounding muscles and maintain spinal stability.
  • Steroid injections. This procedure is used to inject a steroid and a local anesthetic into the space around the compressed nerve to help decrease inflammation and swelling, typically leading to improvement in pain in your neck, arms, back and legs. Most procedures involve a needle that is advanced to the target area using fluoroscopic (x-ray) guidance. A small amount of x-ray contrast will be injected to confirm accurate placement. Once the needle has been properly placed, a combination of a local anesthetic and/or injectable steroid will be placed into the targeted area.
  • Decompression surgery
  • LaminectomyMost surgeries are done while the patient is asleep. You will be positioned face down on a padded frame/bed. By opening the skin and muscle layers, the spine is exposed. Either part of the roof (laminotomy) or the entire roof (laminectomy) is removed depending on how much exposure is needed for the operation. When surgery is done, the retractors are removed, allowing the muscles to cover the exposed canal, and the skin is closed.

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