1 in 1000 American seniors over 65 years old have symptoms of spinal stenosis
(Photo : unsplash.jpg)

Spinal stenosis affects between 250,000-500,000 American citizens. This means that about 1 in 1000 seniors over 65 years old and about 5 in 1000 seniors over 50 years old suffer from this condition to some degree. What is spinal stenosis? How do you recognize the condition? And, most importantly, can you treat it? This article provides the answers to all these questions and more. 

If you've never heard about spinal stenosis before, know that this is a prevalent disease among seniors. And unfortunately, it can result in significant morbidity, severe disability, and even death. 

What's more, data shows that patients suffering from spinal stenosis are estimated to grow to 18 million in the next ten years. So, experts suggest that the prevalence of this condition will increase over the next decade. 

Want to learn more about spinal stenosis? Keep reading below! 

Spinal stenosis, explained

Your spine protects the spinal cord and helps you stand and bend. Yet, when spinal stenosis occurs, it causes the spine to narrow in one or more spaces, reducing the amount of space available for your spinal cord and nerves that branch off your spinal cord. 

When spinal stenosis occurs, and there's a tightened space for the spinal cord and the nerves, they can get irritated, compressed or pinched, leading to back pain and sciatica, which is pain that radiates and branches from the lower back down to the leg. 

This condition can affect the spine in one or more of three parts, including the center of the spine, the space between the bones of the spin, and the neck. 

Now, although spinal stenosis is most commonly found in men and women over the age of 50, anyone can develop this affection, no matter the age. For example, young people who are born with a narrow spinal canal can also suffer from this condition. 

 The causes of spinal stenosis

Age-related changes in the spine are the most common cause of spinal stenosis, meaning that it's more likely to happen as someone ages. Yet, there are several other causes as well. And what all these causes share in common is that they all lead to changes in the structure of the spine, causing narrowing of the spinal space. Other causes of spinal stenosis include: 

  • Herniated disk 

  • Thickened ligaments

  • Back or neck fractures and injuries

  • Spinal cord tumors

  • Congenital spinal stenosis (when someone is born with a narrow spinal canal) 

  • Too much fluoride or calcium in the body 

Spinal deformity may also contribute to spinal stenosis. 

What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?

What is important to know when it comes to this condition's symptoms is that they don't always appear when spinal stenosis first develops. What's more, most patients suffering from mild spinal stenosis are asymptomatic. Moreover, the intensity of the symptoms can vary from one patient to another. Also, they may come and go. 

So, how do you recognize spinal stenosis? Symptoms include: 

Symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis

  • Pain in the lower back

  • Sciatica

  • Heavy feeling in the legs

  • Weakness or numbness in legs

  • Pain that increases when standing or walking for long periods or when walking downhill

  • Pain that decreases when leaning, bending slightly forward, sitting, or walking uphill

  • In rare cases, loss of motor functioning of the legs. 

Symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis

  • Neck pain 

  • Problems with balance 

  • Weakness in hands and arms

  • Loss of function in hands (problems writing or buttoning shirts)


The symptoms of spinal stenosis are a relevant indicator that you may be suffering from spinal stenosis. However, to diagnose this affection, you must see a neurosurgeon who will run additional tests to confirm this diagnose.  

The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. But, you'll most likely be required to make an imaging test to make sure that the diagnosis is accurate. Imaging tests used to diagnose spinal stenosis include X-rays, MRI, CT and CT myelogram, and bone scans. 

Is spinal stenosis surgery my only option?

If you suspect that you suffer from spinal stenosis or have been diagnosed with it, you may be wondering what your treatment options are.  

Now, spinal stenosis surgery is a method of treating this affection by reopening the spinal canal. In fact, 10-15% of patients suffering from lumbar stenosis choose this treatment option. 

But, before turning to surgery, your doctor may first recommend some non-surgical treatment options, including: 

  • Medications: pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen. Your doctor may also recommend anti-seizure drugs that can help manage pain caused by nerves' damage. Opioids are another way to relieve pain, but they carry the risk of severe side effects, including addiction. 

  • Cortisone: Cortisone is a steroid that, when injected into the spinal column, reduces inflammation and relieves some of the pain (sometimes permanently). 

  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles, build up endurance, maintain spine flexibility and stability, and improve balance. 

  • Decompression procedure: the doctor uses needle-like tools to remove a portion of a thickened ligament in the back of the spinal column, which helps increase spinal canal space. However, this treatment option is only available to patients with lumbar spinal stenosis and a thickened ligament. 

However, if these non-surgical treatment options don't work, your doctor will most likely recommend surgery. There are three common types of spinal stenosis surgery, including laminectomy, spinal fusion, and foraminotomy. 

The recovery time after the surgery can take up to three months or more. It depends on the severity of the surgery and the type of surgery you had undergone. 

Lastly, it's important to know that neither of the treatment options mentioned above can treat arthritis or other conditions that may cause your spinal stenosis. So, your symptoms may return over time if you don't treat the underlying condition as well.