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Lumbar Stenosis

Lumbar stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back, or lumbar area, characterized by radiating pain, numbness or weakness in the lower back, buttocks, legs and feet.

This narrowing of the spinal canal occurs when bone or tissue, or both, grow and reduce the openings in the spinal bones, and then squeeze and irritate the spinal cord nerves.

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Frequently, people afflicted with lumbar stenosis have varying degrees of low back pain.

The pain most often occurs during activities and may get worse when walking, standing or leaning backward. Some pain relief may occur when resting, sitting or bending forward.

Other symptoms, which typically occur in the lower back, buttocks, legs and feet, are:

  • Cramping
  • Numbness
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness

In severe cases, the condition can impact continence and sexual function.

Doctors use two kinds of tests to diagnose spinal stenosis. Some of the tests are aimed at making sure there isn't another cause producing the symptoms. Others can indicate that the vertebral narrowing has occurred. After asking you questions about your symptoms, your doctor probably will check your reflexes, gait and other indicators of spinal problems.

Tests include:

  • X-ray — High-energy radiation is used to take pictures of the spine.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) — An MRI provides detailed pictures of the spine that are produced with a powerful magnet linked to a computer.
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The initial treatment for stenosis is to treat the symptoms rather than the condition itself. These treatments include:

  • Medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve inflammation and pain
  • Rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Posture changes, such as lying with the knees drawn up to the chest or leaning forward while walking, may relieve the pressure on the nerves
  • Losing weight
  • Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and relieve pain
  • A cervical collar

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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400 Parnassus Ave., Third Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143-0332
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