What is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?

Jodee Redmond

Lumbar spinal stenosis is a condition that affects the lumbar region of the spine. Five vertebrae make up this portion of the back, and nerves from the spinal canal pass through the foramen, which are small openings. The spinal canal or the foramen may become smaller as a person ages, which causes the lumbar nerves to get "pinched."

Medical professionals may examine X-rays for signs of lumbar spinal stenosis.
Medical professionals may examine X-rays for signs of lumbar spinal stenosis.

Middle-aged adults are most at risk for developing this condition. The symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis may develop over time. Patients may experience lower back pain, along with pain or tingling in the legs. Walking may be painful for them. The person may find that if they sit down or lean forward that they get some relief from their symptoms. Using a cane or a walker may also help them to be more comfortable, since they would need to lean slightly to use these devices.

Chronic, severe lower back pain is often the first sign of lumbar spinal stenosis.
Chronic, severe lower back pain is often the first sign of lumbar spinal stenosis.

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When a patient goes to see his or her doctor complaining of lower back pain, the doctor will take a medical history first. He or she will want to know when the pain started, what it feels like, and what measures the patient has taken to try to deal with it. Lumbar spinal stenosis can't be detected during a physical exam, and the doctor may order x-rays of the lower back, legs, and hips to rule out other causes of the pain first.

CT scans are commonly used to diagnose lumbar spinal stenosis.
CT scans are commonly used to diagnose lumbar spinal stenosis.

To diagnose lumbar spinal stenosis correctly, the patient will undergo either a CT (Computerized Tomography) scan or an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). The CT is a type of x-ray that allows doctors to see the bones and internal organs in cross sections, which gives them more information than the standard type of examination does. An MRI uses magnets and radio waves to provide detailed information about the blood and tissues in the body.

Doctors may need to look at X-rays of the hip may be done to rule out other causes of pain before diagnosing lumbar spinal stenosis.
Doctors may need to look at X-rays of the hip may be done to rule out other causes of pain before diagnosing lumbar spinal stenosis.

Once lumbar spinal stenosis has been diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options available. The doctor may start with medications to deal with the pain and inflammation this condition causes. Aspirin or ibuprofen may be used for this purpose. In some cases, cortisone may be taken orally for a short time.

Exercise may be helpful in treating lumbar spinal stenosis, or a course of physical therapy may be ordered. If symptoms don't improve using these measures, medications designed to treat nerve pain or steroid injections made to the lower back may be ordered. Doctors may also suggest surgery in more severe cases to remove the part of the vertebra or foramen that is pressing down on the nerves and causing pain.

Many people with lumbar spinal stenosis find it easier to walk with a cane.
Many people with lumbar spinal stenosis find it easier to walk with a cane.

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