Ohio State’s Comprehensive Spine Center determines the source of your pain, accurately diagnose the severity of your condition and chooses the least-invasive treatment.


Your spine, or backbone, protects your spinal cord and nerves and 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.

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.

Source: NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Learn more about brain and spine neurological conditions at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Why choose Ohio State for treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis?

Multidisciplinary Team: When you come to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Comprehensive Spine Center, we determine the source of your pain, accurately diagnose the severity of your condition and choose which least-invasive treatment approach will restore you to the highest level of function possible.

Among the experts at our Comprehensive Spine Center are:

  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians
  • Physical therapists
  • Radiologists
  • Neurologists
  • Spine surgeons with neurosurgical and orthopedic training
  • Pain specialists/anesthesiologists

Comprehensive Care: We offer many options for the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis. For most patients, surgery is not necessary. But if your quality of life is compromised, our spine surgeons can address the most challenging surgical cases, assisting people who have not found help elsewhere.

Physical Therapy Expertise: Our physical therapists specialize in spine conditions, working with you one-on-one to alleviate pain and to improve balance, strength and coordination.

Surgical Expertise: If your stenosis has progressed and requires surgery to protect your spinal cord and nerves, we have spine surgeons who are fellowship-trained in complex spine surgeries. We perform more complex spine surgeries than any other medical center in central Ohio.

Research: You will benefit from our involvement in national and international trials that provide you with the most current treatment methods for lumbar spinal stenosis.

Spine Center Registry: Through Ohio State’s Comprehensive Spine Center registry, we track our patients’ outcomes, including physical function and quality of life, and compare these to national and international results to help us select the most effective treatment methods.


Patient Stories

Cindy's back to pain-free

For years Cindy suffered from severe back pain. She was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which causes pressure on the nerves of the spine.Once she visited Stephanus Viljoen, MD, a neurosurgeon specializing in spine disorders at Ohio State, Cindy has new lease on life.

Getting back to normal

For years, Dick suffered from severe pain in his back and legs. He decided to visit Safdar Khan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Ohio State. Dr. Khan diagnosed him with severe spinal stenosis, a condition that causes pressure on the nerves of the spine, and recommended surgery to reduce his pain. Today, Dick is pain-free; he’s back to enjoying life with his wife and cheering on his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes football team.

Sarah's spinal fusion story

Until she met Safdar Kahn, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Ohio State, Sarah struggled with severe back pain. She could no longer garden, travel or even walk her dog. Sarah had spinal stenosis. She underwent spinal fusion surgery with Dr. Khan. Now Sarah is pain-free, active and back to doing the things she loves.


Diagnosing Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Our experts at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Spine Center 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 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
  • X-rays


Treating Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Ohio State offers treatments ranging from physical therapy to the most complex spine surgeries. Our physicians, therapists and other caregivers provide you with options that increase mobility and reduce pain. Most people who come to the Comprehensive Spine Center do not require surgery.

Nonsurgical Treatments

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 will 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 set-up)
  • 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 the Comprehensive Spine Center) 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
  • Massage
  • Injections at the site of the stenosis to relieve pain
  • Spinal cord stimulation in 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

Surgical Treatments

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.



Ohio State performs innovative research in the laboratory, as well as through clinical trials. 

Enroll in a clinical trial

Areas of focus include:

Comparative Study of Minimally Invasive Surgery Techniques [Radiographic and Clinical Outcomes Following Unilateral or Bilateral Posterior Fixation in Minimally Invasive Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusions]: This study compares three different types of minimally invasive surgery to look at how quickly bone fusion occurs and how much function and quality of life patients regain.

Study of Stem Cell Mixture for Bone Fusion [Cellentra Cell Bone Matrix (VCBM) Posterolateral Lumbar Fusion Outcomes Study (VCBM/PLF)]: We are participating as a high-volume center for a randomized, blind study to evaluate a stem cell mixture to promote fusion of bones in lumbar spine surgeries.

Patient Education

Patient Education Animation Library

Learn more about spine conditions and treatments

Our Spine Providers

Additional Information

Please obtain a physician referral before scheduling with our Spine Center and request previous imaging studies (e.g., MRI, CT, X-ray) on a CD from the place where your tests were performed. Please bring to your appointment these and other test results related to your back (e.g., EMGs, bone density reports, ultrasound reports) from your doctor(s).

Preparing for your visit

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