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Definition of Spinal stenosis

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Spinal stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by degeneration of the discs between the vertebrae. The result is compression of the nerve roots or spinal cord by bony spurs or soft tissues, such as discs, in the spinal canal. This most commonly occurs in the low back (lumbar spine) but can also occur in the neck (cervical spine) and less frequently in the upper back (thoracic spine). The symptoms of spinal stenosis vary depending on the location on the nerve tissues being irritated and the degree of irritation. The neck being affected can result in unusual sensations in the arms and/or poor leg function and incontinence. When the low back is affected, the classic symptom is pain that radiates down both legs while walking and is relieved by resting (pseudoclaudication). If symptoms of spinal stenosis are mild, conservative measures designed to relieve the nerve irritation are taken, such as using medications to relieve inflammation, using mechanical supports, and doing back exercises. When symptoms are severe, persistent, and intolerable, surgical resection of the bone and soft tissues that are impinging on the nerves and/or spinal cord can be helpful.


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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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