COVID-19: Vaccine information and additional resources | Medicaid: The program is changing and you must take steps to keep your UNC Health providers

Spinal Stenosis

What is spinal stenosis?

Occurring mostly in people ages 50 or older, spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on your nerves and spinal cord, often causing pain in the neck or lower back. Other conditions, such as arthritis or scoliosis, can also lead to spinal stenosis.

Common symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • pain in the back or neck
  • cramping, numbness, weakness or pain in the arms or legs
  • foot problems
  • problems with bladder or bowel function

Symptoms usually worsen gradually, but some people don't experience any symptoms.

How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?

Your physician will ask you about your medical history and symptoms and will perform a physical examination of your spine to check for pain or mobility limitations. He or she will likely also order imaging tests, such as X-rays, a computed tomography (CT) scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a myleogram (an X-ray of the spinal canal after contrast material has been injected).

How is spinal stenosis treated?

Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce pain and swelling. If your pain is more severe, your physician may prescribe medication, or cortisone injections can provide temporary pain relief. Physical therapy can also help, by strengthening and stabilizing your spine and increasing your endurance and flexibility.

If conservative measures fail to relieve your symptoms, your physician may recommend surgery.

The surgeons at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists can help you decide on the treatment that's best for you. They specialize in minimally invasive spine surgery and are experienced in diagnosing and treating disc disorders and disease, using the newest techniques for relieving pain and returning you to an active lifestyle. To make an appointment at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists, call 919-784-1410.

The most common surgery for spinal stenosis is a decompressive laminectomy, in which the top of the affected vertebra is removed to provide more room for the nerves being compressed. In a small number of patients, a spinal fusion may be the best surgical option.