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Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Symptoms usually develop over time or may occur as a sudden onset of pain. You may feel a dull ache or sometimes sharp and severe pain in different areas, depending on which part of the spinal canal has narrowed. The pain may come and go or only occur during certain activities, like walking.

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Lumbar stenosis may cause pain as well as tingling or numbness that starts in the buttocks and radiates down the back of both thighs and sometimes into the calves, called sciatica. Stenosis also causes neurogenic claudication, a cramping pain and weakness in the legs, typically the calves, that occurs with walking or standing and goes away with sitting and rest. Over time the symptoms increase, reducing one’s physical endurance. Leaning over a supporting object, such as a walker or shopping cart, can help reduce the pain when walking.

Leg pain and cramping can also be a sign of vascular claudication, which occurs when there's a narrowing of the arteries in the leg caused by peripheral artery disease. Pain occurs because your leg muscles are not getting enough blood. It’s important that the doctor determine if your leg symptoms are caused by peripheral artery disease or lumbar stenosis. A key difference is that vascular claudication is worse when walking uphill and is not relieved by bending forward.

Cervical stenosis may cause pain as well as tingling or numbness that radiates from the neck, down the shoulders and into the arms and hands. Pressure on the spinal cord, as it runs through the cervical spine, can cause weakness and spasticity in the arms and legs, called cervical spondylotic myelopathy. Spasticity means you lose control over your muscles and have difficulty walking, placing your feet, or dropping objects. You may have trouble with balance and coordination such as shuffling or tripping while walking.

If you experience extreme leg weakness (foot drop) or difficulty controlling your bladder or bowel function, seek medical help immediately. This is a sign of cauda equina syndrome.
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This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient.
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