Understanding Spinal Stenosis

If you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, you may be concerned about how it will affect your future. Understanding your condition is important. Knowing what symptoms to watch for will help you take a proactive approach to your health.

What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis occurs as the result of the open spaces in your spinal column becoming narrow. In some cases, this narrowing causes pressure on the nerves that travel through the spinal cord as well as the spinal cord itself. The neck and back can both be affected by this condition.

What causes it?

Wear-and-tear changes in the spine are a common cause of spinal stenosis. These changes occur naturally as the body ages. Frequently, these age-related changes take place in the lumbar spine, or lower back area.

Spinal injuries can also cause spinal stenosis. Car accidents or any major trauma can cause fractures or dislocations of the vertebrae. Bone fragments can damage the tissue in the spinal column.


It is possible for you to have spinal stenosis and not notice any symptoms initially. Sometimes spinal stenosis is an incidental finding on imaging studies that are being done for another condition.

When symptoms do develop, they typically begin gradually and increase with time. If your spinal stenosis occurs in the neck region, you may experience tingling, weakness, and a numb feeling in the hands, arms, legs, or feet. If the stenosis is severe, it may cause incontinence due to pressure affecting the nerves leading to the bowel and bladder.

If your stenosis occurs in the back, you may notice you develop cramping or pain in your legs after standing for long periods of time or walking. Sitting down or bending forward will typically relieve your pain.


Your doctor may prescribe pain medications and muscle relaxers to help control your pain and discomfort. Physical therapy may be recommended to help strengthen your back and help you to maintain good posture. Therapy can also help with balance issues and can help you build up your strength and endurance.

In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Your physician will likely refer you to a back surgeon to discuss the surgery as well as the expected outcome. Risks versus benefits will be considered before surgery is performed.

If you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, you may continue to live a normal life with only minor symptoms. Your condition will be monitored carefully to see if any progression of the stenosis is occurring. You will be told what symptoms to watch for and when you need to call your doctor.

Working closely with your healthcare team is vital if you have spinal stenosis. Being proactive, and informing your doctor, one like Southwest Florida Neurosurgical Associates, of any changes you are experiencing is the best way to protect your health and prevent future complications.