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Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal canal that runs along your spine and houses the spinal cord. The resulting pressure on your spinal cord and nerves can cause pain, numbness and weakness.

There are two types, lumbar spinal stenosis — the most common — and cervical spinal stenosis.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

This type of spinal stenosis affects the lower part of the spine. Symptoms include back pain and numbness, tingling or weakness in a foot or leg.

Leg pain or cramping may also occur. This may be mistaken for claudication, a symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD), that causes leg pain or cramping while walking or exercising, but goes away while resting. PAD is a serious vascular condition that reduces blood flow to the legs.

Although the pain is similar, the causes are different. Your doctor will perform tests to diagnose which condition is causing your leg pain.

Cervical Spinal Stenosis

This affects the part of the spine in your neck. Symptoms include:

  • Neck pain
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in your hand, arm, leg or foot
  • Difficulty walking
  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction in severe cases

Causes of Spinal Stenosis

Aging is the most common cause of spinal stenosis, with people 50 and over most likely to have it. Anyone born with a narrow spinal canal or who has a spine injury are also at risk. Other conditions that can result in spinal stenosis include:

  • Arthritis
  • Scoliosis
  • Paget’s disease (causes abnormal bone growth)
  • Chronic fluorosis (too much fluoride in the body)
  • Calcium deposits on spinal ligaments

Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis

Our doctors will do a physical exam and take your health history. You may also have a bone density scan to look for osteoporosis, and a CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to rule out cancer or severe trauma.

Treatment Options

Nonsurgical treatment can restore function and relieve pain but does not improve spinal stenosis. Our doctors may suggest:

  • Physical therapy such as stretching and massage.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen to relieve pain and reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Cortisone, or steroid, injections for longer-term relief of pain and swelling.

If your condition requires surgery, surgeons at University of Maryland Orthopaedics will decide which procedure you should have:

  • Laminectomy, also called decompression surgery, removes part or all of the lamina, a part of the vertebra, to enlarge the spinal canal and relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
  • Spinal fusion permanently joins two vertebras with bone or synthetic graft material to stabilize the spine and prevent movement.

Recovery

After surgery, you may stay a few days in the hospital. Your nurses will help you start walking as soon as possible. You may wear a brace to stabilize your back. Physical therapy to strengthen your back muscles will begin in the hospital and may continue after you return home. Your doctor will tell you when you can go back to work and other daily activities. This can take up to 3 months.

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment with a spine specialist, 410-448-6400.