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Causes and Risk Factors

Spinal stenosis is primarily caused by the natural degeneration of the spine as we age. This degeneration may include the thickening of ligaments, the formation of bone spurs, and the breakdown of discs between vertebrae. These changes may lead to a narrowing of the spinal canal or intervertebral foramina (openings where nerves exit the spine), resulting in pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

Other risk factors for developing spinal stenosis include:

  • Previous injuries or trauma to the spine
  • Genetics and family history
  • Certain medical conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and scoliosis
  • A sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity
  • Herniated discs, which can protrude into the spinal canal


Symptoms of spinal stenosis may vary but often include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking or maintaining balance
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling that radiates from the lower back to the buttocks and down into the legs 
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Problems with bowel or bladder function

Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis

Diagnosing spinal stenosis begins with a comprehensive review of the patient’s medical history and a detailed discussion of their symptoms. A physical examination is conducted to check for signs of muscle weakness, numbness, and changes in reflexes. Imaging tests are essential to confirm the diagnosis and assess the extent of the condition. An X-ray of the lumbar spine can detect structural changes. MRI and CT scans identify spinal canal narrowing and nerve compression.

Treatment Options

Conservative Treatments

Mild to moderate cases of spinal stenosis can often be managed with conservative treatment options, including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Physical therapy and exercise to improve strength, flexibility, and mobility
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Assistive devices such as a cane or walker to aid with balance and walking
  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation and relieve pain
  • Activity modification

Surgical Treatment

In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to alleviate symptoms and prevent further damage to the nerves. The type of surgery will depend on the severity of spinal stenosis. Surgical intervention is usually recommended if conservative treatments have not provided relief or in cases of significant weakness or loss of function.

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