What are the Most Common Spinal Stenosis Symptoms?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 December 2018
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When people have spinal stenosis they may have a variety of symptoms. This condition really means that an area of the spine, either cervical (upper spine) or lumbar (lower spine) is constricted or has become more narrow, and this can place pressure on the nerves and result in a number of symptoms. Expression of spinal stenosis symptoms could depend on the degree to which stenosis or narrowing is present.

If the cervical spine is affected, some of the spinal stenosis symptoms could include changes to the way a person walks. More than a few people may develop a walk that has hesitancy or jerks, even though the area in the spine affected is the upper spine. Additionally bladder function is sometimes affected, and pressure especially in the lower part of the upper spine might make people feel they need to use the bathroom more frequently.

Other people might first note that hand function is affected, and ability to grasp, use a pencil, or perform many small tasks could be inhibited. The muscles in the hand in general weaken. This could make it difficult to perform tasks like typing.


The arms or shoulders may be affected too, and movement of these may not be as easy, or the shoulders may feel constantly tight. Another of the cervical spinal stenosis symptoms is a little less common, but may involve pain. Pain can be felt in the arms and shoulders, seeming to radiate from the spine. Other people don’t feel pain but instead have a numb feeling in the arms or hands.

Lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms are different, since the area compressed affects the lower half of the body more commonly. People might notice pain in the legs that seems to radiate down. The pain can sometimes start at the leg or it might start at the hip or the small of the back and work its way down. As with cervical spinal stenosis, bladder function or bowel function may be affected.

It’s important to note that spinal stenosis symptoms like extreme pain, loss of muscle function, or issues with bladder or bowel control tend to occur only in the most severe cases. People can have small degrees of stenosis and have virtually no symptoms. Degree of stenosis typically predicts symptom development. Additionally, should spinal stenosis symptoms start to develop, there are many treatments that may help address the condition, and these range from non-surgical interventions to surgery to relieve the narrowing of the spine.



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