What is Spinal Stenosis?

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You’ve been active your entire life. You played on multiple sports teams in high school and running several miles a day was no big deal for you. But now that you’re older, you can’t even stand to walk for a few minutes at a time without experiencing back or leg pain and needing to sit down.

The cause? Spinal stenosis.

“Spinal stenosis is a condition most often seen in people over the age of 50. It is typically caused by degeneration within the spine that leads to pressure on the spinal cord or the nerves very near to the spinal cord,” explains Michael Ashburn, MD, MPH, MBA.

People with spinal stenosis may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Numbness

All of these conditions will begin in the low back and run through one or both legs. These symptoms often worsen with activity.

There are two types of spinal stenosis and lumbar spinal stenosis:

  1. Cervical Stenosis
  2. Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Cervical Stenosis

“A patient that has cervical stenosis will often experience pain in the neck due to compression in the spinal cord near the neck,” says Dr. Ashburn.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Lumbar spinal stenosis differs from cervical stenosis in that the pain stems from the lower back. “With lumbar spinal stenosis, the space around the spinal cord narrows which causes pressure to be placed on the spinal cord and the spinal nerve roots,” says Dr. Ashburn.

Can lifting cause spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is usually caused by degeneration that occurs gradually over time, but some patients report that their symptoms can suddenly become worse from time to time. “This worsening of their pain can occur after bending or lifting something, but it also can happen with no clear cause,” explains Dr. Ashburn.

How do you treat spinal stenosis?

While spinal stenosis can be a painful condition that makes it difficult to live an active lifestyle the good news is this that in most cases spinal stenosis can easily be treated to allow you relief. Some of the treatment options include:

  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Receiving cortisol injections directly into the spinal column
  • Engaging in exercise and physical therapy
  • Surgical treatment including:
    • Laminectomy
    • Foraminotomy
    • Spinal Fusion

If you suspect you may be suffering from spinal stenosis contact a Penn spine specialist.

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Keep up-to-date on the latest advancements in the musculoskeletal field, including bone, muscle and joint disease treatments, and other updates from experts at Penn Medicine. 

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