Spinal Stenosis

What is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of spaces in the spine (backbone). This narrowing results in pressure on the spinal cord and/or nerves. Spinal stenosis can occur in a variety of ways in the spine. About 75 percent of cases of spinal stenosis occur in the low back (lumbar spine). In most cases, stenosis will affect the sciatic nerve, which runs along the back of the leg.

What causes spinal stenosis?
There are many potential causes for spinal stenosis, including:

What are the symptoms of stenosis?
Stenosis might result in low back pain as well as pain in the legs. Stenosis might pinch the nerves that control muscle power and sensation in the legs. Additional symptoms might include:

How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?
Spinal stenosis can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can be caused by other conditions. Usually, people who develop stenosis have no history of back problems or any recent injury. Often, unusual leg symptoms are a clue to the presence of spinal stenosis.

If simple treatments, such as postural changes or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, do not relieve the problem, special imaging studies might be needed to determine the cause of the problem. An MRI (magnetic resonance image) or CT (computed tomography) scan might be requested. A myelogram (an X-ray taken after a special fluid is injected into the spine) might be performed. These and other imaging studies can offer details about the bones and tissues, and help with diagnosis.

How is spinal stenosis treated?

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health/ or www.clevelandclinicflorida.org. This document was last reviewed on: 2/8/2005

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