Is It Back Pain or Spinal Stenosis?

By , Virtua Pain Medicine Specialist

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine. This narrowing can put pressure on the nerves that travel through your spine, leading to pain and discomfort. 

Most people who develop spinal stenosis are over 50. Causes include:

  • Bone overgrowth prompted by osteoarthritis, including bone spurs
  • Herniated disks
  • Ligaments that become thick and stiff over time, intruding on the spinal canal
  • Tumors or abnormal growths on the spine
  • Spinal injuries

Spinal stenosis may occur in the neck (cervical stenosis) or the lower back (lumbar stenosis). Lumbar stenosis is the most common type of this condition.

Not everyone with spinal stenosis experiences symptoms. When they do occur, they may start gradually and worsen over time. Symptoms can be similar to other causes of back pain, so it’s important to see your doctor.

Cervical stenosis can be indicated by:

  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in a foot, leg, hand, or arm
  • Neck pain
  • Difficulties walking or keeping your balance
  • Severe cases may include urinary urgency or lack of control over your bowels

Lumbar stenosis can be indicated by:

  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in a leg or foot
  • Cramping or pain in one or both legs when you stand for a long period or walk; this usually resolves when you sit or bend forward
  • Back pain

Left untreated, spinal stenosis can lead to numbness, weakness, balance difficulties, incontinence, and/or paralysis.

If your symptoms are mild, your back specialist may recommend pain relievers and physical therapy. If these don’t help or your pain is more severe, your doctor may prescribe steroid injections or surgery to relieve the pressure in your neck or lower back.

A Virtua back specialist can help decide which treatment is best for you.

Download the Virtua Health Guide to Back Pain, or call 856-246-4272 to request a consultation with one of our back pain specialists.

Updated August 19, 2020

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