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Spinal Stenosis

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spine, which results in pressure on the spinal cord and/or nerve roots. Spinal stenosis often occurs in the spine in the neck (cervical spine) or the lower back (lumbar spine).

What are Common Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?

When stenosis occurs in the lumbar spine (lumbar spinal stenosis), the pressure on the nerve roots can cause tingling, numbness, weakness or pain in the legs. When stenosis occurs in the cervical spine, patients often experience tingling, numbness, or pain in the shoulders and arms.

What causes Spinal Stenosis?

In adults 50 years-of-age and older, the risk of developing spinal stenosis increases, although younger people who are born with a small spinal canal may also develop symptoms. Aging can cause the ligaments (tissues that connect the spine and bones) to become thicker and calcified and the disks between vertebrae to break down. Growths called bone spurs also may occur. All of these conditions tighten the spinal canal, causing spinal stenosis. Arthritis, spinal injury, and spinal tumors also can contribute to the development of spinal stenosis.

How is Spinal Stenosis Diagnosed?

Spinal stenosis is typically diagnosed through a combination of methods, including:

  • Medical history, which may include past injuries or illnesses;
  • Physical examination to determine the extent of limitation of movement, pain or symptoms, and neurologic function (sensation, muscle strength, and reflexes) in the arms and legs;
  • Imaging, including x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), myelogram, and bone scans.

Can Spinal Stenosis be Prevented?

Staying physically fit and getting regular exercise can contribute to a healthier spine by improving endurance and strengthening the back muscles. Exercises like walking, swimming, cycling, and weight training are all good for your back. Maintaining a healthy weight also is beneficial, as it reduces the load placed on the spine. In addition, improving posture and learning proper lifting techniques can help reduce strain and risk of injury.

What are the Treatment Options for Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis treatment often varies, depending on the severity of the condition and the patient’s limitations. Treatment options may include rest, physical therapy, over-the-counter pain medications, corticosteroid injections, and chiropractic treatment. Spine surgery may be an option for some patients when other treatments have been unsuccessful.

Ideally, evaluation and treatment for spinal stenosis should be determined by specialists who are dedicated to helping patients with spinal conditions and are able to offer a wide range of therapies so that treatment can be tailored to the individual patient.

Brigham and Women's Comprehensive Spine Center

The Brigham and Women's Comprehensive Spine Center offers multidisciplinary treatment for patients experiencing spinal conditions due to back pain, disease, or injury. Patients are referred to the appropriate clinical service for initial evaluation using advanced diagnostic procedures and imaging. Neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons in the Center work with specialists in pain management and physical medicine to development personalized treatment plans. The collaborative focus of the Center allows patients to seamlessly transition between clinical services as dictated by their diagnosis and progress.

Patient- and Family-centered Care

BWH has long been committed to not only the care of our patients but also the many other needs that they and their families have. This philosophy of patient- and family-centered care involves systems and services that emphasize healing in a comfortable, relaxed environment.

Quality of Patient Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital is committed to providing all of our patients with the safest, highest-quality, most-satisfying care possible and follow established protocols that have been shown to improve patient outcomes. Our inpatient satisfaction survey, sent to patients’ to assess their total care experience, helps us to monitor what we are doing well and areas for improvement. We pride ourselves in the quality of patient care we provide and how we are measured compared with other hospitals.

Contact Us

If you believe you should have an evaluation and would like to schedule an appointment with one of our experts, call 1-800-294-9999 to speak to one of our knowledgeable coordinators who can help to connect you to the doctor that best meets your needs, or fill out an online appointment request.


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