Spinal Stenosis Causes

Spinal stenosis, sometimes referred to as spinal narrowing, has a number of potential causes, and the specific factors involved may vary widely between individuals.

Get Relief

A Better Understanding of Your Spine

In order to understand the problems that can trigger spinal narrowing, it’s helpful to understand the basic structure of the spinal column. The hollow space in the center of this column (the spinal canal) forms the channel for the spinal cord, which connects the brain with nerves throughout the body. At points where nerves branch off to various body areas, small openings in the spinal column provide passage out of the spinal canal. Before completely leaving the spinal area, nerves also pass through fairly tight spaces just beyond these openings.

Spinal stenosis, which typically affects the cervical spine in your neck or the lumbar spine in your lower back, can occur in any of the three portions of the spine.


The number one cause of spinal stenosis in both the neck and lower back is a form of spinal arthritis called osteoarthritis, which usually appears as part of the natural aging process and therefore affects millions of people across the U.S. and the world. Osteoarthritis sets in when the cartilage that normally helps cushion joints throughout the body starts to break down under the wear and tear that comes with repeated joint use.

In addition to your spine, areas of the skeleton most likely to undergo osteoarthritic change include your knees and feet; along with your spine, as these areas bear most of your body weight. Stenosis is a possibility in anyone with osteoarthritis because arthritic change in the spine can lead to the production of growths called bone spurs, which can accumulate both inside the spinal column and around the openings which serve as nerve root passageways.

Problems occur when these spurs push against the spinal cord or the nerves.

Degenerative Spine Conditions

Degenerative changes in the health of your spinal discs can also function as a spinal stenosis cause. These discs normally help protect your spine by absorbing the shock generated by your daily physical activities. However, they lose their protective qualities and become a source of problems when they either rupture (herniate) or bulge out of their normal position in the spinal column. Both ruptured and bulging discs can protrude inward into the spinal canal or outward into the spaces that carry the nerve roots out of the spine. Either of these changes can lead to the symptoms of stenosis.

Other Causes

Other sources of degenerative spinal change capable of causing spinal stenosis include rheumatoid arthritis and a condition called spondylolisthesis. Rheumatoid arthritis, which frequently affects the cervical spine, can potentially lead to problems by producing serious inflammation in the spinal joints. Spondylolisthesis is characterized by unusual slippage in the normal position of two or more adjacent spinal bones (vertebrae). This slippage can trigger problems by altering the spinal column and putting pressure on either your spinal cord or your nerve roots.

Alternative Causes of Spinal Stenosis

Non-degenerative changes in your spine health can also lead to the appearance of stenosis. These changes include traumatic spinal injuries, spinal tumors, the abnormal buildup of calcium deposits on the supporting ligaments in your spine and a bone enlargement disorder called Paget’s disease.

  • Spinal injuries can produce problems by significantly altering the shape of your spinal column or by pushing fragments of fractured bone up against your spinal cord.
  • Spinal tumors can produce problems by promoting disruptive tissue growth in your spinal canal or by fostering spinal canal inflammation.
  • Calcification of your spinal ligaments can put pressure on the nerve roots exiting your spinal column.
  • The changes associated with Paget’s disease can reduce the size of your spinal canal through a process of bone structure alteration, unusual bone growth or bone fracture.

Primary Spinal Stenosis

Most people are born with enough room in their spines to provide adequate space for the spinal cord and the nerves that branch off from the cord. However, some individuals are born without an adequate amount of room in some portion of their spine and therefore have lifelong risks for developing active stenosis symptoms. Doctors refer to this from-birth problem as primary spinal stenosis. A person affected by this condition often doesn’t experience any relevant problems until he or she reaches middle age. Stenosis acquired after birth occurs far more often than primary stenosis.

How is Spinal Stenosis Treated?

Spinal Stenosis treatment depends on you – your specific physiology and how advanced your case is. The North American Spine medical team and your physician will thoroughly evaluate your situation and recommend a treatment plan to provide both maximum relief and minimum recovery time. Treatment plants are grouped into three categories:


Fusion or Stabilization