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Spine Surgery Guide

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Understanding spinal stenosis begins with a Greek lesson:
stenosis means "a narrowing." So spinal stenosis is a narrowing of your spine. In a more detailed explanation, spinal stenosis is when the channels that your spinal cord and nerve roots travel through become narrower-so narrow that your spinal cord and nerve roots get squeezed. Doctors often call this squeezing "compression."

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"Squeezed spinal cord and nerves" doesn't sound pleasant, and really, spinal stenosis isn't. It can lead to pain in your lower back, legs, neck, arms, or hands. It all depends on where in your back your spinal cord and/or nerves are getting squeezed.

Spinal stenosis can happen anywhere in your spine, but it's most likely to happen in your low back (lumbar spine) or in your neck (cervical spine). It makes sense that if the stenosis is in your low back, it's called lumbar spinal stenosis; if it's in your neck, it's cervical spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis is quite common because changes in the spine—like this narrowing—are a natural part of growing older. Of course, that doesn't mean that only older people will get spinal stenosis, or that everyone will get spinal stenosis as they age, but it is more common in older people.

Here's an amazing thing about spinal stenosis: it may not even cause you pain. The channels in your spine may narrow, but they might not press on your spinal cord or nerve roots. No pressing means no pain.

But not everyone's spinal stenosis is so conveniently placed. Maybe you're one of those people who has trouble walking, or maybe the problem is headaches, arm numbness, or muscle weakness. There are many ways that you can feel spinal stenosis.

Rest assured, though: there are ways to deal with your pain from spinal stenosis.
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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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