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Lumbar Spinal Stenosis - Topic Overview

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This topic is about spinal stenosis of the lower back, also known as the lumbar area. If you need information on spinal stenosis of the neck, see the topic Cervical Spinal Stenosis.

Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing camera.gif of the spinal canal camera.gif in the lower back, known as the lumbar area.

This usually happens when bone or tissue—or both—grow in the openings in the spinal bones. This growth can squeeze and irritate nerves that branch out from the spinal cord camera.gif.

The result can be pain, numbness, or weakness, most often in the legs, feet, and buttocks.

It's most often caused by changes that can happen as people age. For example:

  • Connective tissues called ligaments get thicker.
  • Arthritis leads to the growth of bony spurs that push on the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord.
  • Discs between the bones may be pushed backward into the spinal canal.

Symptoms may include:

  • Numbness, weakness, cramping, or pain in the legs, feet, or buttocks. These symptoms get worse when you walk, stand straight, or lean backward. The pain gets better when you sit down or lean forward.
  • Stiffness in the legs and thighs.
  • Low back pain.
  • In severe cases, loss of bladder and bowel control.

Symptoms may be severe at times and not as bad at other times. Most people aren't severely disabled. In fact, many people don't have symptoms at all.

Your doctor can tell if you have it by asking questions about your symptoms and past health and by doing a physical exam.

You will probably need imaging tests such as an MRI, a CT scan, and sometimes X-rays.

You can most likely control mild to moderate symptoms with pain medicines, exercise, and physical therapy. Your doctor may also give you a spinal shot of corticosteroid, a medicine that reduces inflammation.

You may need surgery if your symptoms get worse or if they limit what you can do. Surgery to remove bone and tissue that are squeezing the nerve roots can help relieve leg pain and allow you to get back to normal activity. But it may not help back pain as much.

Learning about lumbar spinal stenosis:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with lumbar spinal stenosis:

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 13, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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