About Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spine, usually with age. It is one of the most common spine conditions in older adults and can cause loss of ability to move normally or even walk. Many people who walk stooped over do so because of spinal stenosis.

At the OHSU Spine Center in Portland, Oregon we manage spinal stenosis with conservative (non-surgical) treatments such as physical therapy and epidural steroid injections before recommending surgery. However, spinal stenosis usually gets worse over time. This makes it important to get an accurate diagnosis and start treatment as quickly as possible.

To provide the most effective care, your doctor uses our comprehensive health questionnaire to track your progress during and after treatment. This is especially important because spinal stenosis tends to get worse over time. Your answers to the questions help your doctor determine if the spinal stenosis treatment is working effectively or if you need further treatment or surgery.

Causes of spinal stenosis  

Spinal stenosis is caused by changes in the spine as you get older. These include:

  • Spinal disc changes
  • Arthritis in the spinal joints
  • Spinal bone spurs caused by arthritis in the joints
  • Enlarged spinal ligaments caused by bone spurs

Any or all of these changes can put pressure on the nerves in the spine, causing pain, weakness and numbness.

Spinal stenosis symptoms

You can have spinal stenosis in your cervical spine (upper back), which is called cervical stenosis, or lumbar spine (lower back), also known as lumbar stenosis.

Symptoms of lumbar stenosis:

  • Pain in the lower spine when walking
  • Pain spreading down the back of the legs
  • Pain that gets better if you sit down or lean against something  
  • Numbness and tingling in your legs

Symptoms of cervical stenosis: 

  • Pain in the neck or shoulders
  • Numbness in your hands
  • Unable to use arms or legs
  • Paralysis