Skip to main content

Spinal Stenosis


Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. The spinal canal is located in the backbone. It is a small space that holds the nerve roots and spinal cord. If this space becomes smaller, it can squeeze the nerves and the spinal cord. This causes pain and other symptoms. Stenosis can occur anywhere along the spinal cord. It is most common in the low back (lumbar) region.

Spinal Stenosis
Nuclus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Some people are born with narrowed canals. Most often stenosis is a result of aging. Conditions that can cause spinal stenosis include:

Risk Factors

Spinal stenosis is more common in people aged 50 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of spinal stenosis include:

  • Being born with a narrow spinal canal
  • Previous injury or surgery of the spine


Spinal stenosis may cause:

  • 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
  • Partial or complete paralysis of legs


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Imaging tests that evaluate your spine and surrounding structures may include:


Treatments include:


Medications that relieve pain and inflammation include:

Physical Therapy

Special exercises can help stabilize the spinal cord. Exercise can increase muscle endurance and mobility of the spine. This can relieve some pain. Sometimes exercises are ineffective against spinal stenosis.

Support Devices

Wearing a corset or lumbar brace can help stabilize the spine. This may relieve pain.


Surgery is reserved for severe cases.

  • Decompression laminectomy—This is the removal of bony spurs or increased bone mass in the spinal canal. This can free up space for the nerves and the spinal cord.
  • Spinal fusion—This is when 2 vertebrae (back bones) are fused together. This will provide stronger support for the spine. This is almost always done after decompression laminectomy.


There are no guidelines for preventing spinal stenosis.

Revision Information

  • Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

  • Arthritis Foundation

  • The Arthritis Society

  • Canadian Orthopaedic Association

  • Delitto A, Piva SR, Moore CG, et al. Surgery versus nonsurgical treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis: A randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(7):465-473.

  • Kovacs FM, Urrutia G, Alarcon JD. Surgery versus conservative treatment for symptomatic lumbar stenosis: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Spine. 2011;36(20):E1335-E1351.

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated June 8, 2015. Accessed September 16, 2015.

  • Snyder DL, Doggett D, et al. Treatment of degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis. Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(3):517-520.

  • Spinal stenosis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: Updated January 2013. Accessed September 16, 2015.

  • 12/17/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance de Schepper El, Overdevest GM, et al. Diagnosis of lumbar spinal stenosis: an updated systematic review of the accuracy of diagnostic tests. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2013 Apr 15;38(8):E469-81.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. TriStar Health does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.