Spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs when the canal in the spine that contains the spinal cord and nerve roots becomes narrowed or restricted. Stenosis is the medical term for narrowing.
Spinal stenosis can compress the nerves and the spinal cord and can lead to pain in the lower back and legs or in the neck, arms, and hands, depending on where the narrowing is located. Although spinal stenosis can be found in any part of the spine, the lumbar and cervical areas are most commonly affected.
When there is narrowing in the lower back this is called lumbar spinal stenosis. If it is in the neck it is called cervical spinal stenosis.
Spinal stenosis is common and is usually caused by osteoarthritis of the spinal column. People suffering from spinal stenosis may have trouble walking long distances and may need to sit down frequently or lean over to relieve the pain. Sometimes patients experience tingling, pain, or numbness that runs down their arm and into the hand.
Symptoms of spinal stenosis can vary in different cases. There may be no symptoms at all, since narrowing of the canal in the vertebrae does not always compress the spinal cord or nerves. Lumbar spinal stenosis can cause pain in the legs when you stand for long periods of time or when you walk. The pain usually eases if you bend forward. This is because the spinal canal is being opened up when you lean forward.
Cervical spinal stenosis can cause pain in the neck and shoulders. The pain may be occasional or chronic. It may radiate down your arm or hand. Cervical spinal stenosis can also cause headaches or numbness. It can also affect the nerves that control your balance, which can lead to clumsiness or a tendency to fall.