Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the open spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that travel through the spine to your arms and legs. Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the lower back and the neck.
While spinal stenosis may cause no signs or symptoms in some people, other people may experience pain, tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, and problems with normal bladder or bowel function.
Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by wear-and-tear changes in the spine related to osteoarthritis. In severe cases of spinal stenosis, doctors may recommend surgery to create additional space for the spinal cord or nerves.
Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis
Many people have evidence of spinal stenosis on X-rays, but may not have signs or symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they often start gradually and worsen over time. Symptoms vary, depending on the location of the stenosis:
- In the neck (cervical spine). Cervical stenosis can cause numbness, weakness or tingling in a leg, foot, arm or hand. Tingling in the hand is the most common symptom, and many people also report problems with walking and balance. Nerves to the bladder or bowel may be affected, leading to incontinence.
- In the lower back (lumbar spine). Compressed nerves in your lumbar spine can cause pain or cramping in your legs when you stand for long periods of time or when you walk. The discomfort usually eases when you bend forward or sit down.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent pain, numbness or weakness in your back, legs or arms.