Spinal stenosis is where your spinal canal narrows causing the nerve tissue nearby to compress and inflame.
The space in the middle of your spinal column is called the spinal canal. It contains your spinal cord, which is the bundle of nerves connecting your body to your brain. If the spinal canal becomes too narrow, eg due to a slipped vertebra, it can compress the nerves inside.
This nerve compression causes pain, numbness and weakness, especially when walking or standing for a long time.
Spinal stenosis is most common in the over 60s. This is due to natural wear and tear of your bones and tissues in the spine, known as osteoarthritis.
Treatment depends on how bad your symptoms are and the location of the stenosis.
Spinal stenosis symptoms usually start gradually and include:
Where you feel symptoms depends on where your spinal canal is narrowed:
It's common to experience unsteadiness when you walk. You may only be able to cover a short distance before needing to rest. This is because your spinal column is naturally more constricted while standing. Symptoms may be relieved by leaning forward.
You should see your GP if you have symptoms that don’t go away after a few days.
If your GP suspects you have spinal stenosis, they'll probably send you to an orthopaedic consultant (specialising in bones and joints).
Your consultant will recommend one or more of these tests to diagnose and rule out other conditions:
The most common causes of spinal stenosis causes are:
In rare cases, spinal stenosis can be caused by a tumour or sometimes people are born with a narrow spine (congenital stenosis).
Your doctor will first use non-invasive measures to help improve your symptoms.
Spinal decompression surgery may be recommended for severe cases or when other treatments are unsuccessful.