The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the space for the nerves within each vertebra. When there is stenosis, there is not enough room for the nerves, and the nerves are pinched. There may be pain, numbness and weakness.

Lumbar stenosis may result either from arthritic changes (including arthritis caused by work) or a congenital narrowing. It is most common after age 50. The commonest symptoms of pain are in the buttock, thigh, and calf and are associated with walking and standing. The pain often improves with sitting or bending forward. If you have this kind of pain, called claudication, the arteries of the legs must be examined to make sure they are functioning properly.

If you have arthritis, the normal vertebral cartilage is worn out and bone spurs grow, causing a narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis). If symptoms are severe, a surgical procedure known as laminectomy may be considered. It involves the removal of bone fragments, osteophytes, and other arthritis tissue, which cause the narrowing. Basically the surgery involves “shaving down” the arthritis. If this entails removing an extensive amount of tissue, it may be necessary to stabilize the spinal column by fusing two or more vertebra.

The important thing is to remember that pain is only a symptom. While younger people are inclined to see a doctor for back pain, unfortunately many seniors are willing to dismiss back pain, assuming it to be a natural concomitant of aging. However, back pain should be correctly diagnosed so that serious illness can be ruled out, and the underlying problem can be addressed. Most often, substantial relief is possible.



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Last modified: 07/27/08