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Spinal stenosis

  • Alternative Names

    Pseudo-claudication; Central spinal stenosis; Foraminal spinal stenosis


    Often, symptoms will be present and gradually worsen over time. Most often, symptoms will be on one side of the body or the other.

    • Numbness, cramping, or pain in the back, buttocks, thighs, or calves (or problems in the lower back), or in the neck, shoulders, or arms (or problems in the neck)
    • Weakness of a portion of a leg or arm

    Symptoms are more likely to be present or get worse when you stand or walk upright. They will often lessen or disappear when you sit down or lean forward. Most people with spinal stenosis cannot walk for a long period of time.

    Patients with spinal stenosis may be able to ride a bicycle with little pain.

    More serious symptoms include:

    • Difficulty or imbalance when walking
    • Problems controlling urine or bowel movements
    • Problems urinating or having a bowel movement

    Signs and tests

    During the physical exam, your doctor will try to pinpoint the location of the pain and figure out how it affects your movement. You will be asked to:

    • Sit, stand, and walk. While you walk, your doctor may ask you to try walking on your toes and then your heels.
    • Bend forward, backward, and sideways.
    • Lift your legs straight up while lying down. If the pain is worse when you do this, you may have sciatica, especially if you also feel numbness or tingling in one of your legs.

    Your doctor will also move your legs in different positions, including bending and straightening your knees. All the while, the doctor is assessing your strength, as well as your ability to move.

    To test nerve function, the doctor will use a rubber hammer to check your reflexes. Touching your legs in many locations with a pin, cotton swab, or feather tests your sensory nervous system (how well you feel). Your doctor will instruct you to speak up if there are areas where the sensation from the pin, cotton, or feather is duller.

    A brain/nervous system (neurological) examination can confirm leg weakness and decreased sensation in the legs. The following tests may be done:

    • EMG
    • Spinal MRI or spinal CT scan
    • X-ray of the spine