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Spinal Stenosis

The narrowing of the spinal canal (through which the spinal cord runs), often by the overgrowth of bone caused by osteoarthritis of the spine.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Arthritis and Muskuloskeletal and Skin Diseases)

About Spinal Stenosis

The spine, a row of 26 bones in your back, allows you to stand up straight and bend over. The spine also protects your spinal cord from being hurt. In people with spinal stenosis, the spine is narrowed in one or more of three parts:

  • The space at the center of the spine
  • The canals where nerves branch out from the spine
  • The space between vertebrae (the bones of the spine).

This narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves and can cause pain.

Who gets spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is most common in men and women over 50 years old. Younger people who were born with a narrow spinal canal or who hurt their spines may also get spinal stenosis. NIH - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Calcitonin treatment in lumbar spinal stenosis: a meta-analysis

Bibliographic details: Podichetty VK, Varley ES, Lieberman I.  Calcitonin treatment in lumbar spinal stenosis: a meta-analysis. Spine 2011; 36(5): E357-E36421325931

Therapeutic exercise and manual therapy for persons with lumbar spinal stenosis

Bibliographic details: Iversen MD, Choudhary VR, Patel SC.  Therapeutic exercise and manual therapy for persons with lumbar spinal stenosis. International Journal of Clinical Rheumatology 2010; 5(4): 425-437

Surgical versus non‐surgical treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis

Review question: We reviewed the evidence that compares surgery versus non‐surgical treatment for a condition called lumbar spinal stenosis. This condition occurs when the area surrounding the spinal cord and nerves becomes smaller.

See all (127)

Summaries for consumers

Surgical versus non‐surgical treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis

Review question: We reviewed the evidence that compares surgery versus non‐surgical treatment for a condition called lumbar spinal stenosis. This condition occurs when the area surrounding the spinal cord and nerves becomes smaller.

Effectiveness of surgery for people with leg or back pain due to symptomatic spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back region caused by thickening of the soft tissues and bones. It is a common condition for which surgery is usually performed after non‐surgical treatments (such as physiotherapy) have failed to bring sufficient relief to patients. Spinal stenosis is a common cause of low back pain that radiates to the legs, and it is more common in older adults. Surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis normally involves taking pressure off the spinal cord or spinal nerves (known as decompression) by removing bone and soft tissues from around the spinal canal. Another common surgical approach is to fuse two or more vertebrae together after decompression in the patient whose spine seems to be unstable. The usefulness of some types of surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis, however, has been questioned, and previous studies have reported that patients who receive fusion are more likely to have major complications and higher costs when compared with patients who undergo decompression only. More recently, spinal implants were created to help indirectly reduce pressure in the spinal canal and at the same time stabilise the bones. However, these implants have also been linked to worse outcomes (e.g., higher reoperation rates) when compared to conventional decompression.

Non‐surgical treatment for spinal stenosis with leg pain

We reviewed the evidence on the effectiveness of non‐surgical treatments for people with leg pain caused by pressure on the nerves in the spine.

See all (6)

Terms to know

Ankylosis
Fixation and immobility of a joint.
Cervical Spine
The upper portion of the spine closest to the skull. The cervical spine comprises seven vertebrae.
Lumbar Spine
The lower portion of the spine. The lumbar spine comprises five vertebrae.
Rheumatologist
Doctors who diagnose and treat diseases of the bones, joints, muscles, and tendons, including arthritis and collagen diseases.
Spinal Fusion
The surgical joining of two or more vertebrae together, usually with bone grafts and hardware. The resulting fused vertebrae are stable but immobile. Spinal fusion is used as a treatment for spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, herniated disks, and spinal stenosis.
Thoracic Spine
Thoracic vertebrae compose the middle segment, between the cervical vertebrae and the lumbar vertebrae. There are twelve thoracic vertebrae.
Vertebra
The individual bones that make up the spinal column.

More about Spinal Stenosis

Photo of an adult

See Also: Osteoarthritis

Other terms to know: See all 7
Ankylosis, Cervical Spine, Lumbar Spine

Related articles:
How the Spine Works

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