Back Pain Home > Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

The neck or back may hurt as a result of spinal stenosis symptoms and signs. People with the condition may also experience numbness, weakness, cramping, pain in the arms or legs, and foot problems. More severe symptoms can cause problems with bowel and bladder function, as well as foot disorders. Serious symptoms often require immediate treatment.

An Introduction to Spinal Stenosis Signs and Symptoms

The space within the spinal canal may narrow without producing any spinal stenosis symptoms. However, if narrowing places pressure on the spinal cord, cauda equina, or nerve roots, there may be a slow start and progression of symptoms.
 

Common Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis symptoms may cause the neck or back to hurt. In most cases, people with symptoms will experience:
 
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Cramping
  • General pain in the arms or legs
  • Foot problems.
 
If the narrowed space within the spine is pushing on the sciatic nerve root, people with symptoms of spinal stenosis may feel radiating pain down the leg (a condition called sciatica). Sitting down or flexing the lower back should relieve these symptoms. The flexed position "opens up" the spinal column, enlarging the spaces between vertebrae at the back of the spine. In order to relieve back pain, flexing exercises are often advised, along with stretching and strengthening exercises.
 
(Click Sciatica for more information about the condition, including additional symptoms and treatment options.)
 

Severe Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

People with severe symptoms of spinal stenosis may have problems with bowel and bladder function in addition to foot disorders. For example, cauda equina syndrome is a severe, rare form of spinal stenosis that occurs due to compression of the cauda equina. Symptoms of cauda equina syndrome may include:
 
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Problems having sex
  • Pain, weakness, or loss of feeling in one or both legs.
 
If you have any of these more serious spinal stenosis symptoms, you should call your healthcare provider right away.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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