Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

While not all people with narrowing in their spines have significant problems, there can be a range of spinal stenosis symptoms that vary from person to person.
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Two factors typically determine the type of symptoms you will have: the level of your spine where narrowing occurs, and the amount of narrowing present. Stenosis usually appears in either the cervical spine that supports your neck or in the lumbar spine that supports your lower back. In addition, narrowing in either of these spinal regions can occur in one of three locations: in the spinal canal in the center of the spinal column, in the spinal column openings that form passageways for nerve roots or in the spaces just beyond the nerve root passageways.

It’s important to note that the spinal cord passes all the way through the spinal canal in your neck, but only extends down to the uppermost portion of the spinal canal in your lower back.

Where Symptoms Appear

If you experience substantial spinal narrowing in your cervical spine, the symptoms of spinal stenosis usually appear somewhere in the region extending from your neck and shoulders down through your arms and hands. On the other hand, if substantial narrowing occurs in your lumbar spine, symptoms usually appear somewhere in the region extending from your lower back and buttocks down through the backs of your legs and the soles of your feet.

In both areas, basic problems commonly include pain near the site of the affected part of your spine, pain that branches outward through your affected limb(s), unusual weakness or stiffness in your muscles, unusual muscle cramping and unusual numbness or other changes in normal sensation. These symptoms generally become gradually more intense over time.

Site-specific issues also occur. For example, stenosis in your lower back region may trigger the classic symptoms of the condition called sciatica by intruding upon the roots of the sciatic nerve, which emerge from the lumbar spine. Stenosis in your lower back can also interfere with your ability walk normally, while stenosis in your neck may trigger headaches.

Severe Symptoms of Stenosis

Some people develop much more severe problems as a result of narrowing in their spine. As with more common symptoms, the specific nature of these problems depends largely on their location in your upper or lower back. For example, significant narrowing in your cervical spine can lead to undue pressure on your spinal cord and produce a condition called cervical stenosis with myelopathy, which can only be corrected through a surgical procedure. Specific spinal stenosis symptoms associated with this condition include disruptions in your ability to walk normally, jolts of pain that affect either your arms or legs and loss of the motor control necessary to fully control your fingers.

Stenosis in your lumbar spine can potentially impinge upon a bundle of nerve roots that doctors call the cauda equina. In turn, this pressure can lead to the onset of a severe condition called cauda equina syndrome. Potential issues associated with this syndrome include loss of your normal bladder functions, loss of your normal bowel functions and advanced forms of sensation loss or change that appear anywhere from your buttocks to your feet. In a worst case scenario, cauda equina syndrome can result in permanent leg paralysis.

Many of the problems associated with spinal stenosis have other potential sources. This means that doctors must make a detailed diagnosis before confirming stenosis as a cause for any symptoms you may have, and a second opinion can be important in effective treatment.

If you’re ready for a second opinion, contact North American Spine for a free medical review of your MRI or CT scan.

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