Spinal stenosis is the loss of space inside the spinal canal. It can occur anywhere in the spine but is most common in the lumbar spine, or the lower back.
Degeneration, or normal age-related wear and tear on the parts of the spine, can result in bulging discs, bone spurs, thickened spinal ligaments, and enlarged joints near the spinal canal. These changes take up space inside the canal, and the resulting narrowed space puts pressure on the spinal nerves which causes irritation and inflammation.
People usually do not begin experiencing age-related symptoms from stenosis until later in life. However, it can occur in younger people who were born with abnormally small spinal canals.
The symptoms of spinal stenosis are caused by a squeezing of the nerve root. These symptoms occur most often in the legs, with people experiencing heaviness, weakness, and pain while walking or during prolonged periods of standing.
Standing or walking makes the symptoms worse due to pressure and stretching of the irritated nerves. When you take a rest, the symptoms often disappear because you’ve taken the pressure off the nerve roots.
In many cases, mild pain medications and rest will relieve the pain of stenosis. Physical therapy or steroid injections are other possible treatment options.
If your symptoms become severe, the doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to free up, or decompress, the nerves. Two or more vertebrae may also be fused together, or connected, to stop motion at the painful area.