What is the treatment for lumbar stenosis?

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

    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.

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Tell me about lumbar stenosis and treatments.

Doctor's response

"Stenosis" refers to the narrowing of a canal or channel. "Lumbar spine stenosis" is narrowing of the open tunnel of the spinal column in which the spinal cord rests at the level of the low back. Narrowing of the bony openings through which tissues pass is also called encroachment.

Both bone and soft tissue encroachment can cause spinal stenosis. Causes of bony encroachment of the spinal canal include slippage of one vertebra relative to another (spondylolesthesis), bony spurs from degenerative arthritis of the spine, bone collapse (compression fractures), and bone growth (tumors). Causes of soft tissue encroachment leading to spinal stenosis include disc (the "pad" between the vertebrae) disease, soft tissue tumors, and infections.

Lumbar spinal stenosis can cause pains in the lower extremities (legs and thighs) which worsen with walking and are relieved with resting (mimicking poor circulation).

Treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis varies, depending on the cause and severity of symptoms, as well as the age and general health of the patient. Treatments used include rest, antiinflammatory medications, cortisone injections, land and water physical therapy, and surgical decompression (removal of the tissues pressing on the spinal cord).

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Last Editorial Review: 1/11/2018

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