Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

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One of the biggest obstacles to overcoming back pain is identifying symptoms as they arise and reporting them to your physician. While this doesn’t mean that every ache or pain in the back warrants a visit to the doctor, it is important that you recognize symptoms of back pain, particularly when they worsen or spread.

Treatment for spinal stenosis is most effective when symptoms are identified early on and the problem is accurately diagnosed. Many back pain sufferers ignore the earliest signs of back pain and dismiss it as simple aches and pains, instead of taking note of the symptoms, when they began and the level of pain experienced. Because of this, treatments for back problems such as spinal stenosis aren’t treated until the pain has worsened and more invasive treatments are required.

Symptom-Free Spinal Stenosis?

There are a few lucky souls out there who experience a narrowing of the spinal canal without any symptoms arising, however this group is made up of a very small number of patients. In the instance of a symptom-free ailment, it may take a routine checkup for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Common Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Symptoms of spinal stenosis arise due to the pressure placed on the spinal cord and/or nerve roots. Just as the spine narrows progressively over time, so too do the symptoms. Again, this is why it can be so difficult to treat back problems because it is difficult to distinguish generic symptoms from actual symptoms.

The pain caused by spinal stenosis isn’t often the primary symptom that causes concern, but rather the numbness and tingling due to the pressure on the nerve roots. This numbness or tingling can be experienced in the arms, hands, feet or legs—depending on the type of spinal stenosis—as well as the buttocks or neck.

Muscle weakness or cramping is perhaps one of the most identifiable symptoms of spinal stenosis, and often the one that prompts a visit to a back pain specialist. Muscle cramping or weakness may be felt in the shoulders, neck, arms, legs or buttocks.

Some patients with spinal stenosis have reported sciatica as a symptom, which is quite common as the sciatic nerve may be affected by the narrowing canal. Since this nerve runs the course across a large area of the human body, it is likely most patients with spinal stenosis will at some point suffer the effects of sciatica.

The location of the pain will help the physician as well as the patient determine what type of spinal stenosis is causing the pain. The pain will manifest in one of three places, and in some rare instances, more than one place: lower back (lumbar), neck and shoulder (cervical) or the upper back area (thoracic). The pain will vary in severity, but a defining feature of spinal stenosis is that the pain worsens during periods of standing or walking and subsides during sitting or bending forward. Most frequently pain and other symptoms present on either the left or right side of the body

Uncommon Symptoms

Some symptoms of spinal stenosis do not present in every case or across all types of spinal stenosis. Some of the rare symptoms that arise when the problem worsens or with a specific type of spinal stenosis include:

Document Symptoms

Documenting your symptoms will make it easier for you to get an accurate diagnosis for your back problems. Take note of any pain as well as where the pain occurs, how long it lasts and what activities make the pain more pronounced. If you experience any of the uncommon symptoms of spinal stenosis, document those as well and pass that information on to your back specialist.

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This information is crucial as it will help you get an accurate diagnosis as well as the most effective treatment plan.


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