The lumbar spine (lower back) consists of five vertebrae in the lower part of the spine between the ribs and the pelvis. Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that compresses the nerves traveling through the lower back into the legs. While it may affect younger patients due to developmental causes, it is more often a degenerative condition that affects people age 60 and older. The discs may become less spongy as you age, resulting in reduced disc height and bulging of the hardened disc into the spinal canal. Currently, it is estimated that about 400,000 Americans, most over the age of 60, may be suffering from the symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis. There are as many as 1.2 million Americans with back and leg pain related to any type of spinal stenosis. 

Lumbar spinal stenosis may or may not produce symptoms, depending on the severity of your case. The narrowing of the spinal canal itself does not produce these symptoms. It is the inflammation of the nerves due to increased pressure that may cause noticeable symptoms to occur. When present, symptoms may include: 
• Pain, weakness, or numbness in the legs, calves, or buttocks 
• Pain radiating into one or both thighs and legs, similar to sciatica 
• In rare cases, loss of motor functioning of the legs 
• In rare cases, loss of normal bowel or bladder function 
Pain may decrease when you bend forward, sit or lie down. Pain may get worse when you walk short distances. 

Degenerative spondylolisthesis and degenerative scoliosis (curvature of the spine) are two conditions associated with lumbar spinal stenosis. Degenerative spondylolisthesis (slippage of one vertebra over another) is caused by osteoarthritis of the facet joints. Most commonly, it involves the L4 slipping over the L5 vertebra. It usually is treated with the same conservative and surgical methods as lumbar spinal stenosis. 

Degenerative scoliosis occurs most frequently in the lower back and more commonly affects people age 65 and older. Back pain associated with degenerative scoliosis usually begins gradually and is linked with activity. The curvature of the spine in this form of scoliosis often is relatively minor, so surgery is required when conservative methods fail to alleviate pain associated with the condition. 

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Overview

  • Diagnosis

  • Surgical treatment

  • Nonsurgical treatment

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