What is lumbar spinal stenosis?
Your spine, or backbone, protects your spinal cord and nerves, and it allows you to stand and bend. Lumbar spinal stenosis causes narrowing in the spine of the lower back. The narrowing can put pressure on your nerves and spinal cord and can cause pain and nerve damage.
Lumbar spinal stenosis occurs mostly in people older than 50. Younger people with a spine injury or a narrow spinal canal also are at risk. Diseases such as arthritis and scoliosis can worsen spinal stenosis.
Lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms
Symptoms might appear rapidly, gradually or not at all. They include:
- Pain in your back
- Pain going down the leg
- Numbness, weakness or cramping of your legs
- Bowel and bladder problems, in severe cases
Doctors diagnose lumbar spinal stenosis with a physical exam and imaging tests. Treatments include medications, physical therapy, braces and surgery.
Learn more about brain and spine neurological conditions at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Diagnosing lumbar spinal stenosis
Our experts at Ohio State Spine Care use clinical skills and advanced testing to differentiate lumbar stenosis from other conditions that cause leg pain, including hip joint disease and pain in the legs due to insufficient blood supply.
To confirm the findings of our thorough history, physical and neurological exams, we offer:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CT), with or without myelography (use of contrast dye in the spinal fluid to study X-ray images of compression of the spinal cord and nerves)
- Electromyography (EMG), a test that measures the electrical activity of muscles
- Nerve conduction studies, usually performed with EMG to determine if a nerve is functioning normally
Lumbar spinal stenosis treatment
Ohio State offers treatments ranging from physical therapy to the most complex spine surgeries. Our physicians, therapists and other health care professionals provide you with options that increase mobility and reduce pain. Most people who come to Ohio State Spine Care don’t require surgery.
One of Ohio State’s strengths is our physical therapy program, with therapists who specialize in complex, degenerative spine conditions. Following an examination of posture, back mobility, strength and flexibility, our physical therapists customize a plan for you. We take into account any impairments or functional limitations you have. Typically, you’ll work one-on-one with a therapist on pain-relieving movement strategies and on improvements in balance, strength and flexibility.
Additional nonsurgical treatments include:
- Education on back care and recommendations for specific needs (such as job demands, recreational activities, home setup)
- Real-time ultrasound imaging (RUSI) of movement in the spine area to retrain the deep stabilizing musculature of your spine (a highly researched, evidence-based intervention)
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Weight loss guidance, emphasizing healthier eating and exercise to ease pressure on the spine
- Pilates, yoga and aquatic therapy to strengthen back muscles
- Acupuncture (provided at Ohio State Spine Care) or dry needling for pain control through Ohio State’s Center for Integrative Medicine
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit—a form of electrical stimulation that provides short-term pain relief
- Injections at the site of the stenosis to relieve pain
- Spinal cord stimulation at the Center for Neuromodulation if you have chronic pain or have had failed surgeries. A device similar to a pacemaker is implanted beside the spinal cord to deliver mild electrical impulses before pain signals arrive. Instead of pain, you feel a tingling sensation
Lumbar spinal stenosis surgery
If you have pain with walking and have become progressively immobile, we can use both minimally invasive surgery and conventional surgical techniques for these procedures:
- Decompression surgery (laminectomy) to remove part of the vertebra and relieve pressure on your spinal cord or nerves
- Spinal fusion surgery to fuse a severely slipped bone with the vertebra below it and restore stability to the spinal column
The vast majority of our patients see positive results, including significant pain relief, improved quality of life and a return to normal activities.