4 Primary Causes of Spinal Stenosis and How It’s Treated

Apr 11, 2023
4 Primary Causes of Spinal Stenosis and How It’s Treated
Spinal stenosis most often affects your lower back and neck, and symptoms like pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in your arms and legs can really interfere with your life. Here are common causes and treatments of this condition.

An estimated 75% of people will experience back pain at some point in their life, but only a few of these cases are due to spinal stenosis. This condition describes a narrowing of the spinal canal, which can cause pain and movement limitations due to pressure on your spinal cord and nerve roots. 

About five in every 1,000 people over age 50 are likely to get spinal stenosis, which most often affects the lower back and neck, causing symptoms like pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in your arms and legs. Age-related change to the spine is the most likely reason people develop spinal stenosis, but it’s not the only reason.

At Alabama Neurological Surgery & Spine in Birmingham, Alabama, our skilled physicians diagnose many cases of spinal stenosis and offer effective treatments. Here’s what they see as the four primary causes of spinal stenosis and the therapies they recommend to help you get relief.

1. Age-related changes to the spine

Age-related changes to the spine happen gradually over time. Your spine slowly loses its normal structure. Ligaments that hold the spine together thicken and harden, entering into the spinal space. 

The cushiony discs between your vertebrae also may flatten and bulge, narrowing the spinal canal. Bones and joints enlarge or bone spurs can develop, infringing on the canal space. 

2. Arthritis

Arthritis is a major cause of structural changes to the spine. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage that protects your joints wears away and the bones begin to rub against each other. This causes bone spurs that extend into the spinal canal and pinch nerves in the spine.

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience pain, swelling, and loss of function in many joints. This autoimmune condition isn’t a common cause of spinal stenosis, but it can certainly cause damage to joints in the spine.

3. Congenital spinal issues

About 9% of patients with spinal stenosis have the condition from birth. They’re born with a small spinal canal. Scoliosis, a congenital condition in which your spine has an abnormal curve, can also increase your risk of spinal stenosis. 

4. Trauma 

If you’ve experienced a car accident, major fall, or other trauma, you may be at greater risk of spinal stenosis. Bones can break or move out of place, and pieces of the fracture may penetrate the spinal canal. 

Treatment for spinal stenosis

At Alabama Neurological Surgery & Spine, we recommend heat and cold therapy, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory medications, weight loss, and physical therapy for mild cases of spinal stenosis. These measures help reduce pain so you can manage day-to-day activities. 

Slightly more involved treatments include corticosteroid injections into the spaces where the spine and nerve roots are pinched or where bone rubs together. This helps reduce inflammation and irritation, but it isn’t a cure. This brings temporary relief.

We may also recommend a decompression procedure when your spinal stenosis is caused by a thickening of specific ligaments. The procedure requires no general anesthesia or stitches. You come into the office and your provider uses specialized needles to remove a section of the thickened ligament, freeing up space in the spinal canal. You walk shortly after and go home to recover.

Surgery is another option for advanced cases. It may involve:


During this procedure, your surgeon removes the back part (lamina) of the affected spinal bone. They may need to connect the bone to nearby spinal bones with metal hardware and a bone graft.


A laminotomy means the surgeon removes only part of the lamina. 


A laminoplasty treats spinal bones in the neck. Your surgeon enlarges the spinal canal by creating a hinge on the lamina. They place metal hardware to bridge the gap in the opened section of the spine.

Get the care you need for spinal stenosis at Alabama Neurological Surgery & Spine. Call our office, or use this website to request an appointment.