Ten Facts about Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

1.  What is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?
Lumbar spinal stenosis is a condition of the lower back that can cause low back and leg pain.  It affects about 1 in 10 people in the general population but is much more common in people over the age of 65.

2.  What are the symptoms of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?
Common symptoms include aching, numbness, weakness and/or pain the in the lower back, buttocks, thighs, calves, and/or feet.  These symptoms usually get worse when standing or walking because the spinal canals (openings) get smaller during these activities.

3.  What causes Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?
The most common cause is age-related degenerative changes that narrow the canals in the spine where the nerves exit.  This causes irritation and/or compression to the spinal nerves.

4.  Why did I feel better when I sit?
When you sit down, the canals in the spine get larger which decreases irritation to the nerves.  Because of less irritation, symptoms usually improve.

5.  Are MRI scans needed to diagnose Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?
Lumbar spinal stenosis is usually diagnosed based on the typical signs and symptoms of this condition along with a physical examination.  MRI scans may provide helpful information to the healthcare provider in some cases, but are not usually required to diagnose this condition.

6.  What are other causes of leg pain?
Although lumbar spinal stenosis is a common condition, not all leg pain is related to it.  For example, leg pain may be caused by sensitive muscles and joints, poor blood circulation to the legs, and/or hip/knee arthritis.

7.  How is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis treated?
Lumbar spinal stenosis is treated in various ways including conservative and surgical treatment.  Because there is no cure for this condition, learning self-management strategies is important to achieve long-term success.

8.  My imaging report shows that I have degeneration in my back causing Lumbar Spinal Stenosis. What does this mean?
As people age, most will develop degenerative changes in their spine, but not everyone experiences symptoms due to these changes.  It is essential to determine if the findings on your imaging match your symptoms and physical examination findings.  Therefore, healthcare providers should treat based on the whole picture rather than solely from what is seen on imaging.

9.  What is conservative care for Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?
Conservative care is recommended as the first line treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis. Effective conservative care includes manual therapy (spinal manipulation/mobilization, flexion-distraction), exercise, and education on self-management.  Most people experience improvements when undergoing conservative care for lumbar spinal stenosis.

10.  What is surgical decompression?
Surgical management of lumbar spinal stenosis is a treatment commonly recommended if there is significant deterioration in pain and leg weakness, loss of bowel/bladder function, and/or failure with conservative care.  There are different surgical techniques such as spinal decompression with or without fusion.  Decompression involves removal of bone from the spine to increase the size of the spinal canals.