Overview

Spinal stenosis happens when the space inside the backbone is too small. This can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves that travel through the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the lower back and the neck.

Some people with spinal stenosis have no symptoms. Others may experience pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. Symptoms can get worse over time.

The most common cause of spinal stenosis is wear-and-tear changes in the spine related to arthritis. People who have severe cases of spinal stenosis may need surgery.

Surgery can create more space inside the spine. This can ease the symptoms caused by pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. But surgery can't cure arthritis, so arthritis pain in the spine may continue.

Products & Services

Symptoms

Spinal stenosis often causes no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they start slowly and get worse over time. Symptoms depend on which part of the spine is affected.

In the lower back

Spinal stenosis in the lower back can cause pain or cramping in one or both legs. This happens when you stand for a long time or when you walk. Symptoms get better when you bend forward or sit. Some people also have back pain.

In the neck

Spinal stenosis in the neck can cause:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling or weakness in a hand, leg, foot or arm
  • Problems with walking and balance
  • Neck pain
  • Problems with the bowel or bladder

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Causes

Spinal bones are stacked in a column from the skull to the tailbone. They protect the spinal cord, which runs through an opening called the spinal canal.

Some people are born with a small spinal canal. But most spinal stenosis occurs when something happens to reduce the amount of open space within the spine. Causes of spinal stenosis include:

  • Bone spurs. Wear-and-tear damage from arthritis can cause extra bone to grow on the spine. These are called bone spurs. They can push into the spinal canal. Paget's disease also can cause extra bone to grow on the spine.
  • Herniated disks. Disks are the soft cushions that act as shock absorbers between your spinal bones. If part of the disk's soft inner material leaks out, it can press on the spinal cord or nerves.
  • Thick ligaments. The strong cords that help hold the bones of your spine together can become stiff and thick over time. Thick ligaments can push into the spinal canal.
  • Tumors. Rarely, tumors can form inside the spinal canal.
  • Spinal injuries. Car accidents and other trauma can cause spinal bones to break or move out of place. Swelling of nearby tissue right after back surgery also can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

Risk factors

Most people with spinal stenosis are over age 50. Younger people may be at higher risk of spinal stenosis if they have scoliosis or other spinal problems.

Spinal stenosis care at Mayo Clinic

Oct. 25, 2022
  1. Spinal stenosis: In depth. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/spinal-stenosis. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  2. Goldman L, et al., eds. Mechanical and other lesions of the spine, nerve roots and spinal cord. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  3. Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2022. Elsevier; 2022. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  4. Levin K. Lumbar spinal stenosis: Pathophysiology, clinical features and diagnosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  5. Lumbar spinal stenosis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/lumbar-spinal-stenosis. Accessed May 10, 2022.
  6. AskMayoExpert. Lumbar spinal stenosis (adult). Mayo Clinic; 2021.
  7. Levin K. Lumbar spinal stenosis: Treatment and prognosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  8. Frontera WR, et al., eds. Lumbar spinal stenosis. In: Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 4th ed. Elsevier; 2019. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  9. Roberts WN. Intraarticular and soft tissue injections: What agent(s) to inject and how frequently? https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 16, 2022.
  10. AskMayoExpert. Minimally invasive lumbar decompression (adult). Mayo Clinic; 2021.
  11. Azar FM, et al. Degenerative disorders of the thoracic and lumbar spine. In: Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 14th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 17, 2022.
  12. Ami TR. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic. March 17, 2022.
  13. Huddleston PM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. June 29, 2022.

Related

Associated Procedures

Products & Services