Imagine your spinal canal slowly narrowing as you age, leaving little to no room for your
spinal cord and your nerves. As the canal narrows, your spinal cord and nerves are
squeezed tightly, like a boa constrictor preparing its prey. This very process can and
does happen. Referred to in the medical field as spinal stenosis, this condition occurs in
the neck and lower back, also known as the cervical and lumbar spine.
Though it is possible to have more than one type of stenosis, there are two main types
of spinal stenosis; cervical and lumbar. As you might guess, cervical stenosis means it
occurs in the neck, while lumbar stenosis means it occurs in the lower back. Cervical
stenosis can become a serious condition as it could lead to the body becoming
tremendously weak, which sometimes results in paralysis. Someone with cervical
stenosis has the possibility of experiencing compression on the spinal cord. Depending
on how severe the compression is, surgery may be required in order to deal with the
Lumbar stenosis may cause an individual to experience pain in their legs when walking
but find relief when sitting. Because of this symptom, lumbar stenosis may look similar
to vascular insufficiency. To determine which condition it is, the person’s blood flow will
As with many spinal conditions, a person dealing with stenosis may or may not
experience, much less notice, symptoms. Symptoms can also vary depending on
whether the stenosis is in the neck or lower back. Some common symptoms to be
aware of with both cervical and lumbar stenosis include, numbness, tingling,
leg/buttocks pain and weak muscles.
More specifically, with cervical stenosis, a person may feel pain or tingling in an arm,
hand, foot, leg or neck. They may also struggle with balance or simply walking. In more
extreme cases, a person could also face problems with bowel or bladder dysfunctions.
With lumbar stenosis, numbness or pain may be felt in the foot, leg or lower back. The
person may also experience cramping in a leg, if not both, when walking, or after
standing for an extended period of time, but then feeling relief when sitting down or
There is a third type of stenosis, known as thoracic. This form is not common, however
can still occur. When discussing the thoracic area, this part of the spine involves the
middle to upper area. These vertebrae are attached to the ribs. Because little movement
occurs in this area, the chances of developing this kind of stenosis is much less
Though most cases of spinal stenosis are simply a result of the spine simply
deteriorating as a person ages, there are some cases in which a person is born with a
type of stenosis.
A person may be aware of their stenosis due to a previous CT scan or even an MRI,
however they may not ever notice any other symptoms. Once the pain or tingling begins
to occur, it usually only increases as time goes on, and will differ depending on if the
stenosis is in the back or neck, as well as what specific nerves are being impacted.
A few causes of stenosis or factors that could contribute, could include any of the
following: herniated discs, tumors, thickened ligaments, spinal injuries, scoliosis, genetic
diseases, or overgrowth of the bone(s).