Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Spinal Stenosis


What are the symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal Stenosis
Spinal Stenosis is caused by the narrowing of the space available for the spinal canal

Spinal Stenosis is most common in the older age group and we would find that people who attend the clinic to relieve spinal stenosis symptoms are typically over 65. (read more about the causes of Spinal Stenosis here). There are different types of symptoms from Spinal Stenosis - and the severity of these symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Some people get no pain at all, or may get symptoms that get worse over time. The types of symptoms can vary too.

OK - let’s have a look at some of these symptoms - I have listed the ones I see most often in my clinic. However, items 1 and 2 below are very significant and most consistent in the sufferers of spinal stenosis that I have seen:

  1. Pain on standing up - is a very frequent symptom. This due to the mechanical effects standing upright has on the narrowing of the canal, which is the main objective finding in spinal stenosis.

    Standing, along with most extension postures, further increases the narrowing of the spinal canal. This in turn increases the pressure on the nerves, resulting in an increase in pain. Commonly, clients with spinal stenosis report that bending forwards eases their symptoms. When your body does this, it unloads the pressure on the stenotic area of your spine, which eases the pressure on the nerves.

  2. Pain relief when sitting down - also a common finding in spinal stenosis sufferers. This is due to the effect sitting has on the stenotic spine. Like bending forward, sitting can unload the narrowed area (stenotic area) where your spinal stenosis is, reducing the pressure on the affected area and easing your symptoms.

  3. Back pain - is very common and due to the compression stenosis has on the bones, ligaments, muscles, discs and nerves at the affected level. They become strained, impinged and eventually inflamed - thereby causing pain.

  4. Sciatica - occurs if the peripheral nerves such as the sciatic nerve are compromised or impinged in any way, causing sciatic type symptoms.

  5. Leg pain - is associated with stenosis, due to the mechanical compression it causes to the nerves in your lower back, resulting in a referral of pain into your leg. Again a common example is sciatica.

  6. Leg weakness and leg numbness - is due to the impinged and compressed nerves in your spine. Compressed nerves can cause pain, pins and needles, numbness and weakness. You may have one or all symptoms at any one time.

  7. Leg cramps - are also common and due to the compression effect spinal stenosis has on the nerves in your back at the affected level.

  8. Bowel and bladder problems - occur in spinal stenosis if your lumbar and sacral levels are affected. Most commonly if the very base of your spine at the lumbo-sacral junction is affected it may cause bowel or bladder problems.

  9. Foot pain - is associated with spinal stenosis mainly if your lower back is the affected area. This is due to direct compression on the nerve in your lower back that feeds your foot, as well as the reduction in conductivity in the nerve due to the disease and the compression.

  10. Shoulder pain - will occur if the spinal stenosis affects joints in your neck or upper back. This is due to the nature of referral from your spine to your shoulder. It is a fact that certain joints and nerves in your neck and upper back refer to your shoulder area. (see neck shoulder arm pain for more)

There many symptoms of spinal stenosis that I have seen in my clients, but in my experience these are the most common presentations of spinal stenosis pain. It is important to note that if you have Bowel and Bladder problems, or leg weakness and leg numbness, then these are more serious symptoms - not just of spinal stenosis but of any back condition and needs to be investigated straight away.




While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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