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Do you get leg pain when walking? Does it stop you in your tracks? If you do, take a look at the lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms below to find out more.

The lumbar spine is composed of five vertebrae in the lower back. There are small openings on the sides of the vertebrae called foramina (singular – foramen). Nerves travel through the spinal canal and exit through the foramina. These nerves transmit motor signals from the brain to the lower body to produce movement of the lower extremities and transmit sensations from the lower body through the spinal cord to the brain.

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Stenosis comes from the Greek word meaning “choking.”  The term spinal stenosis is used to describe a narrowing of the spinal canal. When the spinal nerves in the lower back are choked, it is referred to as lumbar spinal stenosis. Narrowing can occur in either the spinal canal (central stenosis) or one or more of the vertebral foramina (foraminal stenosis).

Lumbar spinal stenosis is more common in people age 50+. It is often caused by degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis or degenerative spondylolisthesis. However, there are other conditions that can cause a narrowing of the space of the spinal canal or vertebral foramen including tumors, infection, or metabolic bone disorders such as Paget’s disease of bone. X rays and other imaging can assist in establishing the cause in each case.

Below are common symptoms of spinal stenosis. These vary depending on the location and the severity of the stenosis.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

For most people, symptoms of lumbar stenosis develop slowly over time and tend to fluctuate. You may have periods when symptoms are severe, while at other times you may experience fewer symptoms or have none at all.

 

Leg Pain

Leg pain is a major symptom of lumbar spinal stenosis. It can take 2 forms:

  1. Leg pain with walking (Claudication)
  • Claudication (narrowing of the blood vessels) can have vascular causes. However, with lumbar spinal stenosis, the reduction in blood supply is caused by the compression of the vessels by the spinal structures. The pain is also caused by the nerves in your spine being compressed due to the narrowing of the spaces in your spine.
  • Pain or cramping in one or both legs can also occur when you stand for long periods of time.
  • Pain tends to be intermittent, coming and going rather than continuous. You may be able to walk a certain distance and then need to stop because of the of pain in your leg(s). It can markedly reduce your activity level.
  • Pain relief is achieved almost immediately if you sit down or lean forward. This happens because the spaces in your spine are wider when you are sitting or flexing forward, but narrower when you are erect.

 

  1. Leg Pain (Sciatica)

sciatica nerve explainedThe sciatic nerve runs from your lower back, through your buttock, and down the back of each leg. If this nerve gets trapped or squeezed between spinal discs, sciatic nerve pain (sciatica) occurs.

Sciatic pain can vary depending on the location of the pinched nerve. It is characterized by:

  • Constant pain in one side one of the buttock and radiates down the leg
  • Pain is worse when sitting.
  • The pain is burning or searing rather than a dull ache.

 

Another common symptom of lumbar spinal stenosis is:

 

Weakness and Numbness

  • You may feel a weakness or numbness in your leg or foot. This is due to the spinal nerves being trapped and squeezed between the spinal vertebrae.

Knowing and recognizing the symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis means you can identify if you have the condition and get early treatment.

See your doctor if you have any of the lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms listed above.

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