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Neurosciences and Behavioral Health Center

Lumbar Stenosis

Lumbar stenosis is a common cause of lower back pain. It develops when either the spinal canal or nerve passageways (foramen) become narrow. If the foramen becomes narrow, it is called lumbar foraminal stenosis. You may experience both types of lumbar stenosis.

Some patients are born with this narrowing (congenital). However, most cases of lumbar stenosis develop in patients over age 50 and is a result from aging and wear and tear on the spine. Other common causes include osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease or bone spurs.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

The symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis include:

  • Low back pain
  • Pain, weakness or numbness in the buttocks or legs
  • Difficulty and pain when walking, standing or bending backwards
  • Pain relieved by resting or leaning forward
  • Burning, tingling and pins and needles sensations
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Although rare, severe cases can cause loss of function or paraplegia

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your doctor will ask your medical history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may also order diagnostic tests that include:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • Myelography
Many different nonsurgical treatments can help relieve symptoms. 

Surgical Treatment

You may require surgery if nonsurgical measures are unsuccessful. The goal of surgery is to decompress the spinal cord and nerve roots. Decompression involves the removal or trimming of whatever is causing compression. Your surgeon will discuss the best procedure for you.

  • Decompressive laminectomy is a common surgical procedure to treat lumbar stenosis. This procedure removes the lamina (vertebral roof) to create more space in the spinal canal for nerves. If your surgeon only removes part of the lamina, the procedure is known as a decompressive laminotomy.
  • discectomy removes part of, or an entire disc, such as a herniated disc that compresses nerve structures.  
  • Your surgeon may perform instrumentation and fusion to stabilize the spine. This may be combined with another procedure, such as discectomy. Instrumentation (i.e., screws, plates) and fusion (bone graft) joins and stabilizes two or more vertebrae. 

Make an Appointment

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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