To get the best treatment for your spinal stenosis, it's important to recognize and understand the symptoms. Since spinal stenosis can gradually develop as you age, the symptoms can also gradually develop—and gradually get worse. Also, symptoms can vary a great deal. You may have no symptoms at all, since narrowing of the spinal canal or other channels does not always compress the spinal cord or nerves. But when your spinal cord or nerve roots become compressed and squeezed, you'll feel it.
Your symptoms also depend on where your spinal canal has narrowed. Generally, spinal stenosis affects your low back (lumbar spine) or
Spinal stenosis in your lower back (lumbar spine) can cause pain or cramping in your legs when you stand for long periods of time or when you walk. The discomfort usually eases if you bend forward or sit down, but it comes back when you stand upright. Think of it this way: As you walk through the grocery store, does leaning forward on the grocery cart reduce your pain? Pain that eases when you bend forward is typical of lumbar spinal stenosis. This type of pain is sometimes called pseudoclaudication, false claudication, or neurogenic intermittent claudication.
Other symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis besides pain may include numbness, weakness, or tingling in the leg or foot.
In severe cases of lumbar spinal stenosis, nerves to the bladder or bowel may be compressed, which can lead to partial or complete incontinence. If you're having problems controlling your bladder or bowel, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Spinal stenosis in your neck (cervical spine) can cause pain in the neck and shoulders. It may radiate down your arm or hand. Cervical spinal stenosis can also cause headaches, numbness, or muscle weakness. It can also affect the nerves that control your balance, which can lead to clumsiness or a tendency to fall. The pain from cervical spinal stenosis may be occasional or chronic, and it can also range from mild to severe.