Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What causes lumbar spinal stenosis?

The most common cause of lumbar spinal stenosis is degenerative arthritis and degenerative disc disease. As with other joints in the body, arthritis commonly occurs in the spine as part of the normal aging process and as a result of osteoarthritis. This can lead to loss of the cartilage between the bones at the joints, formation of bone spurs (osteophytes), loss of the normal height of the discs between the vertebrae of the spine (degenerative disc disease, also known as spondylosis), and overgrowth (hypertrophy) of the ligamentous structures. Further degeneration of the lumbar discs can lead to slippage of one vertebra on another, a process referred to as spondylolisthesis. Each of these processes can reduce the normal space available for the nerves in the spinal canal and result in direct pressure on nerve tissues to cause the symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis.

Lumbar spinal stenosis can also be caused by other conditions that decrease the space of the spinal canal or vertebral foramen. These can include

  • tumor of the local structures or metastatic tumors (tumors that originated in another part of the body and spread to this location),
  • infection,
  • various metabolic bone disorders that cause bone growth, such as Paget's disease of bone.

These causes, however, are much less common than degenerative arthritis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/18/2015

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