Spinal stenosis is a chronic spine condition that develops when the spinal canal becomes narrowed, often pressing on the nerves that travel through the spine and exit through small spaces between the spine bones (vertebrae). Spinal stenosis can occur for different reasons, and it tends to become more common with age. About 8 percent to 11 percent of men and women in the U.S. suffer from spinal stenosis, a number that’s expected to grow as the general population grows older.
Spinal stenosis is much more common among older men and women as age-related changes cause the spine joints (facet joints) to become thicker and the ligaments that help stabilize the spine to become stiffer and less flexible. “Settling” or gradual compression of the discs can also cause the spinal space to become narrower and more crowded. Spinal stenosis can also occur as a result of the development of bone spurs, tiny overgrowths of bone tissue that grow around the vertebrae and press on the nerves. Less commonly, spinal stenosis can develop in people who have had spine-related injuries or who have tumors in or near the spine.
The most common symptoms of spinal stenosis include:
Some patients with spinal stenosis may find their symptoms are temporarily relieved by leaning forward while sitting down, a position that helps open up the spinal canal and reduce pressure on the nerves.
More mild forms of spinal stenosis may be treated with oral anti-inflammatory medications, sometimes combined with injections of steroid medications around the affected area to help relieve inflammation. Physical therapy may also help in these cases by promoting circulation and healing. When these conservative approaches aren’t effective in providing long-term relief, surgery may be recommended to enlarge the spinal canal, especially in the areas where the nerves exit the spine. In these procedures, a small portion of the vertebrae will be removed and a spinal fusion surgery is usually performed to stabilize the area and prevent painful friction.