The term stenosis means “narrowing” of a tube or opening. Spinal stenosis means that the tube surrounding your spinal cord and nerve roots has become too small, and your nerves are being compressed. Stenosis can arise in different ways. Sometimes, people are born with a spinal canal that is too small. Other times, the canal may have been narrowed by surgery or conditions like disc bulges. Most commonly, spinal stenosis arises from chronic arthritic changes that narrow the canal. This type of stenosis usually develops slowly over a long period of time, and symptoms show up later in life.
Patients with stenosis often report pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in their legs. Lower back pain may or may not be present, but leg symptoms are usually more bothersome. You may notice increasing symptoms from standing or walking and relief while sitting because the available space in your spinal canal decreases when you stand, walk or lean back and increases when you sit or flex forward. Walking down hill is usually more uncomfortable than walking up hill. You may notice that when you walk with a shopping cart or lawn mower, you are more comfortable, as this promotes slight flexion. Sleeping on your side in a fetal position with a pillow between your knees may be most comfortable.
The natural course of spinal stenosis is variable. Most patients notice their symptoms stay about the same over time, while others are divided into fairly equal groups who either improve or worsen. Be sure to tell your doctor if you notice that your legs become cold, swollen or change color. Likewise, tell us if you notice a fever, unexplained weight loss, flu-like symptoms, excessive thirst or urination, numbness in your groin or loss of bladder control.
While there is no non-surgical cure for stenosis, we offer potent treatments to help ease your symptoms. Treatment is focused on helping improve your mobility so that you can walk and function better. You will be given exercises to help with conditioning. You should avoid activities that increase your pain, including heavy lifting or those that cause you to extend your back, like prolonged standing or overhead activity. When you are forced to stand, you may find relief by slightly elevating one foot on a stool or bar rail. You may find relief while washing dishes if you open your cabinet door and alternately rest one foot on the inside of the cabinet to provide a little bit of flexion. Recumbent cycling is often a more tolerable alternative to walking or running. Some patients report relief by using an inversion table.