Causes of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, putting pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. It often occurs in the lower back and the neck. Spinal stenosis can result from disc herniations, spinal degeneration, spine trauma, arthritis, and bone tumors. It is commonly caused by wear-and-tear changes in the spine related to osteoarthritis. 


Types of Spinal Stenosis

There are two main types of spinal stenosis, which are classified according to where the condition occurs on the spine. When the narrowing occurs in the part of the spine in your neck, the condition is known as cervical stenosis. When the narrowing occurs in the part of the spine in your lower back, it is known as lumbar stenosis. This is the most common form of spinal stenosis.



The spine runs from the neck to the lower back. The bones of the spine form a spinal canal, which protects the spinal cord. While some people are born with a small spinal canal, most spinal stenosis occurs when something happens to narrow the open space within the spine. Causes may include:

  • Spinal injuries: Trauma such as car accidents can cause dislocations or fractures of one or more vertebrae. Displaced bone from a spinal fracture can damage the contents of the spinal canal. Swelling of nearby tissue after back surgery can also put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. 
  • Thickened ligaments: The cords that help hold the bones of the spine together can become thickened and stiff over time, bulging into the spinal canal.
  • Herniated disks: The cushions that act as shock absorbers between vertebrae can dry out with age. Cracks in a disk’s exterior may allow some soft inner material to escape and press on the spinal cord.
  • Overgrowth of bone: Osteoarthritis may cause wear and tear damage on the spinal bones, prompting the formation of bone spurs, which can grow into the spinal canal. A bone disease known as Paget’s disease may also cause bone overgrowth in the spine.


How Can Physical Therapy Help?

There is no cure for spinal stenosis, but there are steps you can take to reduce pain and improve flexibility. The impact of this disease varies widely from patient to patient, but when participating in physical therapy for spinal stenosis, your PT will assess your strength, joint mobility, range of motion, muscle flexibility and extensibility, and nerve health. Treatment will include manual stretching, soft tissue mobilizations, and joint mobilizations. You will be given exercises and stretches to help control your symptoms and improve your functional mobility. You will also be provided with a home exercise program to ensure quickest rehabilitation possible. 

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