Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces in the spine, or backbone, where the spinal cord is located. It puts pressure on the spinal cord, which in turn causes pain and disruption to some body functions.
Because spinal stenosis is usually caused by the degeneration (the breaking down, or deterioration) of bones, disks, and ligaments during the aging process, it mostly affects people over the age of 50. In younger people, the condition is usually a result of a genetic disease that affects bone and muscle development, like scoliosis and Paget's disease. Some people may be born with the defect while others suffer a spinal injury that causes it. Tumors can also lead to spinal stenosis.
Some people don't feel the effects of spinal stenosis, but most will experience symptoms like pain or cramping in the legs when walking or standing for long periods of time; numbness, weakness, or tingling in a leg, foot, arm, or hand; and bladder or bowel functioning problems. Symptoms tend to worsen over time.
To treat spinal stenosis, a doctor might recommend a variety of medications, physical therapy, and steroid injections; for severe cases, surgery can increase space in the spinal area and relieve pressure. At-home treatments like over-the-counter pain medications, hot or cold packs, and using a cane or walker also might help.
With proper treatment and some changes in lifestyle, many people with spinal stenosis can remain active for many years.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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