Spinal Stenosis

The spinal column contains open spaces that create passageways for the spinal cord and the spinal nerves. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of (or an intrusion into) these openings. This can cause compression of the nerves. Spinal stenosis most commonly affects the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine.

Spinal Anatomy

Each vertebra has a large opening at the rear called the spinal canal. In the cervical and thoracic regions of the spine, the spinal cord travels through this space. In the lumbar region of the spine, this opening contains a bundle of nerve roots. Openings called foramina branch away from the spinal canal. These spaces provide pathways for the nerve roots that travel from the spine to other parts of the body.

What is Stenosis?

In a spine with stenosis, one or more of the openings in the vertebrae are narrowed. The narrowing can cause the nerves to compress against the vertebral bone. This can interfere with nerve function. It can cause pain in the spine or in other parts of the body.


Stenosis is commonly caused by an excess growth of bone around the spinal nerves. This excess bone growth often results from osteoarthritis. Stenosis can also result from a dislocation or fracture of the vertebral bone. Stenosis can be caused by soft tissue intruding into the spine’s open spaces. Herniated discs, tumors, and thickened spinal ligaments can press against the spinal nerves. And in some cases, a person is born with a small spinal canal that does not provide enough room for the spinal nerves.


Symptoms of spinal stenosis can vary depending on the location and severity of the problem. Spinal stenosis can cause pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs. Spinal stenosis in the lower back commonly causes sciatica, a sensation of burning pain that can travel through the buttocks and down the legs. This condition can also cause problems with control of the bladder and bowels.


Treatment options for spinal stenosis may include anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants and medications to relieve pain. Sometimes tricyclic antidepressants are prescribed to relieve chronic pain. Steroid injections may be beneficial. A physician may also recommend physical therapy or a decompression procedure to increase spinal canal space. 

If these methods are not effective, surgery may be needed to eliminate pressure on the nerves. A common procedure used to treat stenosis uses interspinous process spacers. The back of each vertebra has a projection called a spinous process, and putting a spacer between the processes will increase the height between the vertebrae, which can relieve the symptoms of stenosis. This procedure is minimally invasive and can be done on an outpatient basis.

Make an Appointment

Dr. Nael Shanti of Cary Orthopaedics provides patients in the North Carolina Triangle who suffer from spinal issues with the latest in evidence-based compassionate treatments available. If you have questions or concerns about conditions like spinal stenosis and possible treatment options, call (919) 297-0000 to make an appointment with Dr. Shanti. You can also request an appointment online.