Spinal stenosis, a
condition that causes narrowing around the spinal
cord and nerves.
In spinal stenosis, one or more areas in
the spine narrow — especially in the upper or lower
back — putting pressure on the spinal cord or on the
roots of these branching nerves.
This pressure can lead to a wide range of
problems — cramping, pain or numbness in your legs,
back, neck, shoulders or arms; a loss of sensation
in your extremities; and sometimes problems with
bladder or bowel function. Most often, spinal
stenosis results from degenerative changes in the
spine caused by aging. But tumors, injuries and
other diseases can also lead to narrowing in the
Mild symptoms may be helped by conservative
treatments such as pain relievers, physical therapy
or a supportive brace. In more serious cases, your
doctor may recommend surgery to create additional
space for the spinal cord or the nerves.
cramping in the legs (neurogenic intermittent claudication,
pseudoclaudication, false claudication).
Compression of the nerves in the lower spine can lead to a condition
called neurogenic intermittent claudication. This causes pain or
cramping in your legs when you stand for long periods of time or
when you walk. The discomfort usually eases when you bend forward.
This flexes the spine, taking some of the pressure off the nerves.
If you have neurogenic claudication, you may try to relieve your
pain by sitting, by bending forward when you walk or by leaning on
an object such as a shopping cart or cane.
There are two
types of intermittent claudication. Vascular claudication results
from narrowing or blockages in the leg arteries whereas neurogenic
claudication is caused by pressure on the spinal nerves. Although
the conditions cause similar symptoms, they differ in two important
ways: Vascular claudication becomes worse when walking uphill and
improves with rest. The pain of neurogenic claudication, on the
other hand, may worsen when going downhill and is often relieved by
a change of position.
and hip pain (sciatic nerve pain).
Compressed nerves in the lumbar spine are often the result of a
bulging (herniated disk). This compression frequently leads to pain
along the path of the sciatic nerve, which extends down the back of
each leg. Sciatic pain usually starts in your hip or buttocks and
radiates downward. The pain is worse when you're sitting and
generally affects only one side. You also may experience numbness,
weakness or tingling in your leg or foot. For some people, sciatic
pain is a minor annoyance. For others, it can be debilitating.
Pain in the
neck and shoulders.
This is likely to occur when the nerves in your neck are compressed.
The pain may occur only occasionally or it may be chronic. In some
cases it may extend into your arm or hand. You also may experience
headaches, a loss of sensation or muscle weakness.
Pressure on the cervical spinal cord can affect the nerves that
control your balance, resulting in clumsiness or a tendency to fall.
Loss of bowel
or bladder function (cauda equina syndrome).
In severe cases, nerves to the bladder or bowel may be affected,
leading to partial or complete urinary or fecal incontinence. If you
experience either of these problems, seek medical care right away.