Understanding Spinal Stenosis as a cause of back pain

Understanding spinal stenosis as a cause of back pain

Back pain is a common ailment that can have various underlying causes, one of which is spinal stenosis. Characterized by the narrowing of the spinal canal, this condition can lead to compression of the spinal cord and nerves. This results in persistent and often debilitating back pain. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of spinal stenosis, its types, causes, symptoms, and available treatment options.

Spinal Stenosis

The spinal canal is a protected sequence of holes to allow the spinal cord to travel down the spinal column and throw off a pair of nerves to the body at each vertebral level. Spinal stenosis occurs when the hole diameters within the spinal column narrow, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. This narrowing can occur in various areas of the spine, including the cervical (neck) region and the lumbar (lower back) region. While spinal stenosis is usually a result of aging and wear and tear on the spine, it can also develop due to other factors.Spinal Stenosis

Types of Spinal Stenosis

There are two primary regions of spinal stenosis:

  • 1. Central Stenosis: This type involves the narrowing of the central spinal canal which houses the spinal cord. Central stenosis can lead to compression of the spinal cord  causing symptoms that extend beyond the back to the arms or legs.
  • 2. Foraminal Stenosis: This narrowing occurs in the foramen, which are openings on the sides of the vertebrae through which nerve roots exit the spinal cord. Foraminal stenosis can lead to radiating pain, tingling, or numbness in the arms or legs.

Causes of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis can develop due to a combination of factors:

  • 1. Age-related Changes: As people age the a) spinal discs  lose water content and  height so narrow the foramen exit size and b) the spine's ligaments tend to  thicken contributing to space loss and so narrowing of the spinal canal.
  • 2. Herniated Discs: Discs that bulge or herniate can impinge on the spinal cord or nerve roots leading to stenosis.
  • 3. Bone Spurs: The growth of bony protrusions (spurs) as a result of large spinal loads can encroach upon the spinal canal and contribute to narrowing.
  • 4. Arthritis: Conditions such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can lead to inflammation and the growth of bone spurs, contributing to stenosis.
  • 5. Trauma or Injury: Previous injuries or trauma to the spine can cause structural changes that lead to stenosis. Major falls or motor vehicle accidents.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

The symptoms of spinal stenosis can vary based on the location and severity of the narrowing. Common signs include:

  • 1. Back Pain: Dull, aching pain in the affected area that may radiate down the legs or arms.
  • 2. Numbness and Tingling: Compression of nerves can lead to sensations of numbness and tingling in the arms, legs, hands, or feet.
  • 3. Weakness: Weakness or difficulty in controlling the muscles of the arms or legs.
  • 4. Radiating Pain: Pain that travels from the back into the buttocks, thighs, or lower legs.
  • 5. Loss of Balance: Severe cases of spinal stenosis can lead to difficulty walking or maintaining balance.

Managing Spinal Stenosis

While spinal stenosis is a chronic condition, various approaches can help manage its symptoms and improve an individual's quality of life:

  • 1. Exercise Therapy: Targeted exercises and stretches can help strengthen supporting muscles and improve flexibility.
  • 2. Chiropractic Care; joint mobilization and manipulation has been shown to be effective when the disease is mild to moderate. 
  • 3. Epidural Injections: Steroid injections around the affected nerves can provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation.
  • 4. Lifestyle Modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight, adopting good posture, and avoiding activities that exacerbate symptoms can help manage pain.
  • 5. Pain Management: Over-the-counter or prescription medications can help alleviate pain and inflammation.
  • 6. Surgery: In severe cases where conservative treatments are not effective, surgical interventions to decompress the affected area can be very effective.


Spinal stenosis is a significant contributor to back pain, affecting individuals' daily lives and well-being. Understanding its causes, types, and symptoms is essential for early diagnosis and effective management. If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent back pain, seeking chiropractic  attention is crucial to determine the appropriate course of treatment. While spinal stenosis may present challenges, various strategies and interventions are available to help individuals lead a more comfortable and active life despite the condition. Give us a call.

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Mayo Clinic - spina; stenosis