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A to Z: Spinal Stenosis

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Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces in the spine, or backbone, where the spinal cord is. It puts pressure on the spinal cord, which can cause back pain, weakness in the arms or legs, and balance problems.

More to Know

Most cases of spinal stenosis (stih-NO-sis) are caused by the breaking down of bones, disks (pads between the spinal bones), and ligaments during the aging process. So it mostly affects people over age 50.

In younger people, it’s usually due to a genetic disease that affects bone and muscle development, like scoliosis. Some people may be born with the defect while others had a spinal injury that caused it. Some tumors also can lead to spinal stenosis.

Some people don’t feel the effects of spinal stenosis. But most have symptoms like:

  • pain or cramping in the legs when walking or standing for long periods of time
  • numbness, weakness, or tingling in a leg, foot, arm, or hand

Symptoms tend to get worse over time.

To treat spinal stenosis, a doctor might recommend medicines, physical therapy, and steroid injections. For more serious cases, doctors can do surgery to increase space in the spinal area and relieve pressure. At-home treatments like over-the-counter pain medicines, hot or cold packs, and using a cane or walker also might help.

Keep in Mind

With the right treatment and some lifestyle changes, many people with spinal stenosis can remain active for many years.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.