Spinal stenosis

What is spinal stenosis?

A medical condition called spinal stenosis affects the spine, an essential part of the body's central nervous system. It is characterised by a spinal canal narrowing that causes the spinal cord and nerve roots that pass through it to be compressed. 

The lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) regions of the spine are where this narrowing most frequently occurs, though it can happen anywhere along the spine. A person's quality of life may be significantly impacted by a variety of symptoms brought on by the compression of the spinal cord and nerves, ranging in severity from mild to severe.

For the patient's and the attending clinician's satisfaction, prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment are necessary.

What are the causes of spinal stenosis?

Numerous conditions, such as spinal injuries, congenital anomalies, or degenerative changes in the spine, can result in spinal stenosis. 

The most typical cause of spinal stenosis in older individuals is degenerative changes, such as ligament thickening, herniated discs, and osteoarthritis. 

Spinal stenosis can also result from congenital abnormalities like a narrow spinal canal or an atypical spine curve. 

Spinal stenosis can also result from injuries to the spine, such as bone fractures or dislocations.

Clinical anatomy relevant to spinal stenosis

The spinal cord, nerve roots, and cerebrospinal fluid are all located within the central hollow space of the spinal column, or the spinal canal. The spinal canal may narrow in spinal stenosis as a result of degenerative changes, herniated discs, bone spurs, or ligament thickening.

Nerve Roots: To supply the various body parts, the spinal nerves branch out from the spinal cord's small openings known as foramina. The nerve roots may become compressed in cases of spinal stenosis, resulting in pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the affected regions.

Intervertebral discs: The soft, gel-like structure that cushions the spine's vertebrae and serves as shock absorbers are known as intervertebral discs. The intervertebral discs may degenerate and collapse in cases of spinal stenosis, which can limit the space available for the spinal cord and its nerve roots.

Facet joints: Facet joints are tiny joints that connect each vertebra, helping to stabilise the spine and regulate movement. The facet joints may swell and become arthritic in spinal stenosis, which can further narrow down the spinal canal.

Ligaments: The spine is supported and kept in proper alignment by several ligaments. The ligaments in spinal stenosis may thicken or calcify, which can also reduce the amount of space in the spinal canal.

Making an accurate diagnosis and choosing the best course of treatment requires knowledge of the pertinent clinical anatomy of spinal stenosis.


Spinal stenosis can be classified in a number of ways that are useful for both diagnosing and treating the condition.

Depending on the location:

Based on where the stenosis is located within the spine, spinal stenosis can be categorised. Based on the location, there are three main types of spinal stenosis:

Cervical stenosis is a spinal stenosis that affects the neck region.

Thoracic stenosis is a narrowing of the spine's middle or upper back.

Lumbar stenosis is a spinal stenosis that affects the lower back.

Anatomical classification: 

central stenosis, lateral recess stenosis, foraminal stenosis

The underlying cause of spinal stenosis can also be used to classify the condition. The following are some typical causes of spinal stenosis:

Age-related changes, such as osteoarthritis or disc degeneration, are the root cause of degenerative stenosis. 

Congenital stenosis is brought on by birth defects in the spine's skeletal structure.

Stenosis that has been acquired: brought on by trauma, tumours, infections, or Paget's disease.

According to the degree of the condition's severity, spinal stenosis can also be divided into different categories. Imaging tests like MRIs and CT scans can be used to determine this. Depending on how much the spinal cord and nerve roots are compressed, spinal stenosis is frequently categorised as mild, moderate, or severe.

Clinical features:

The lower back, legs, buttocks, or neck can all experience pain, which is the most typical symptom of spinal stenosis. Standing, walking, or other weight-bearing activities that strain the affected area can worsen the pain. The pain may be variable or constant. In addition to pain, tingling or numbness in the hands, feet, or legs and weakness in the affected area may also be present.

Leg cramps or weakness may be signs of lumbar spinal stenosis, which affects the lower back. Neurogenic claudication is the main symptom of lumbar stenosis which can affect 90% of people suffering from spinal stenosis. Other symptoms may involve difficulty walking or standing for extended periods of time. Bowel, bladder, and sexual dysfunction are other possible side effects that some patients may experience.

Arms, hands, and fingers may experience pain, tingling, and weakness as a result of cervical spinal stenosis. Along with neck pain and headaches, patients with cervical stenosis may also struggle with balance and coordination.

Additionally, spinal stenosis can result in radiculopathy, a condition in which the spinal nerves become compressed and cause pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the body parts supplied by them. Radiculopathy can affect the arms or legs unilaterally or bilaterally

Spinal stenosis can range in severity, and some sufferers may not even exhibit any symptoms. However, in more severe cases, the symptoms may be crippling and significantly lower the patient's quality of life.

Non-operative treatment:

 The goals of non-surgical treatments for spinal stenosis are to lessen symptoms, enhance function, and stop the condition from getting worse. These remedies could consist of the following:

Physical therapy: Physical therapy can be beneficial for posture improvement, flexibility improvement, and muscle strengthening around the spine. Patients with spinal stenosis may benefit from pain relief and increased mobility through this.

Medication: Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to treat pain brought on by spinal stenosis. It is also possible to treat muscle spasms with muscle relaxants. Opioid pain relievers may be prescribed for pain that is more severe. Gabapentin is effective in improving walking distance, reducing pain, and recovering sensory deficits.

Epidural injection: A corticosteroid drug is directly injected into the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord. By doing so, you can lessen pain and inflammation brought on by spinal stenosis.

Assistive Devices: To support the spine and ease pressure on the nerves, assistive devices like braces, canes, and walkers may be used. For patients with spinal stenosis, these devices can increase mobility and reduce the risk of falling.

Weight management: Keeping a healthy weight can help to relieve spinal stenosis symptoms and lessen pressure on the spine.

When spinal stenosis is still in its early stages, physical therapy can be a successful treatment. Some possible physiotherapy treatments are:

Exercise Therapy: By increasing muscle strength and flexibility, exercise therapy can help to relieve spinal stenosis symptoms and relieve pressure on the spine. Stretching, core-strengthening, and low-impact aerobic exercise are possible.

Manual Therapy: Hands-on methods like massage and joint mobilisation are used in manual therapy. These methods can help to lessen pain and increase the range of motion.

Poor posture and poor body mechanics can make the symptoms of spinal stenosis worse. To relieve pressure on the spine and stop further harm, physiotherapists can educate patients on proper body alignment and postural correction.

Modalities: To lessen pain and inflammation, modalities like electrical stimulation, ultrasound, and heat or ice therapy can be used.

Aquatic therapy: Exercising in a pool as part of aquatic therapy can relieve the strain on the spine and provide a low-impact workout environment.

The use of assistive devices, such as braces, canes, or walkers, which support the spine and relieve pressure on the nerves, can also be explained by physiotherapists.


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