Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the open spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that travel through the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the neck and lower back.

While some people have no signs or symptoms, spinal stenosis can cause pain, numbness, muscle weakness, and problems with bladder or bowel function.

Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by wear-and-tear changes in the spine related to aging. In severe cases of spinal stenosis, doctors may recommend surgery to create additional space for the spinal cord or nerves.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Many people have evidence of spinal stenosis on X-rays, but have no signs or symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they often start gradually and worsen over time. Symptoms vary, depending on the location of the stenosis:

  • In the neck. Narrowing in the upper (cervical) spine can cause numbness, weakness or tingling in a leg, foot, arm or hand. In severe cases, nerves to the bladder or bowel may be affected, leading to incontinence.
  • In the lower back. Compressed nerves in your lower (lumbar) spine can cause 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 or sit down.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent pain, numbness or weakness in your back, legs or arms.

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