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Back Pain & Osteoporosis


Spinal Stenosis


Back pain that may radiate to the buttocks and legs. Pain worsens with activity.

Numbness in the buttocks and legs.

Weakness in the legs.

When To Call Your Doctor

Call a doctor if you have persistent pain, numbness, or weakness in the back, legs, or neck, or if back pain accompanies changes in bowel or bladder function.

What Is It?

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, the cavity within the vertebral column through which the spinal cord passes. Nerves leaving and entering the spinal cord are called nerve roots; they pass through the vertebral column via small canals. Arthritic changes that cause overgrowth of vertebral bones may compress the spinal cord or the nerve roots, impairing sensation and muscle strength in the affected portion of the body. Most common among people in their 50s and 60s, spinal stenosis affects the lumbar (lower back) portion of the spine more than the cervical (neck) region. Symptoms include pain, numbness, and weakness in the lower back and legs. Aching in the buttocks, thighs, or calves during activity is a common feature of low back spinal stenosis.

What Causes It?

Disorders that involve arthritic degeneration and abnormal overgrowth of bone tissue, such as osteoarthritis or Paget’s disease may cause spinal stenosis.


There is no way to prevent spinal stenosis.


Patient history and physical examination. Reflexes in the legs are tested to assess nerve involvement.

X-rays, sometimes with injected dyes (myelography).

CT (computed tomography) scans or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

Back pain with loss of or changes in bowel or bladder function.

How To Treat It

Losing weight and toning the abdominal muscles with exercise may reduce pressure on the spine. Check with your doctor before beginning any weight-loss program or new exercise regimen.

A lumbosacral support (a corset available at some pharmacies and medical-supply stores) may discourage motion that causes pain and help ease walking and exercise. It should not be worn all day, however.

Anti-inflammatory drugs may relieve pain.

If pain prevents normal activities despite self-care and medication, surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves (decompression surgery) may be warranted. The surgeon opens the spinal column where narrowing has occurred and removes the constricting bone or fibrous tissue. The opening through which nerve roots pass may be widened; if an excessive amount of bone is removed, the affected vertebrae may be fused together to increase spinal stability. Physical therapy may aid rehabilitation.


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