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Ask the Expert: Spinal Stenosis

anatomy of a back

In this week’s installment of Ask the Expert, Dr. Andrew Sama, Orthopedic Surgeon, answers questions on spinal stenosis.

Q1. What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal which results in pressure on the nerves either in the central part of the canal, in the sides of the canal under the joints, or in the windows through which the nerves exit the canal. This can happen in the neck, mid or low back. The pressure on the nerves results in pain, numbness or weakness in the extremities. Cervical stenosis (in the neck) can affect the arms, legs and sometimes balance. Lumbar stenosis (in the low back) usually affects the buttocks and legs and can make standing or walking painful.

Q2. What are some of the causes of spinal stenosis?

Stenosis can be congenital or developmental from a young age. It can also be caused by arthritic changes of the facet joints and narrowing of the discs between the spine bones with overgrowth of the ligaments that help stabilize the vertebrae. It can also be caused by slippage of one vertebra on the next or by scoliosis or curvature of the spine.

Q3. What demographic is often at risk?

Patients in their 50’s and above are most commonly at risk for stenosis caused by arthritic changes to the spine. Developmental or congenital stenosis may affect patients in their late teens or twenties and above.

Q4. What can be done to treat spinal stenosis?

The early symptoms of stenosis can be treated with activity modification and anti-inflammatory medications. When symptoms become more significant, epidural steroid injections can be tried. If none of these give relief, then surgery to decompress the stenosis may be indicated. Depending on the cause of the stenosis and where it is located, fusion may also be required.

Q5. Is there any ongoing research regarding spinal stenosis?

Hospital for Special Surgery has been committed to the development of research and clinical expertise in this area of medicine.


Dr. Andrew Sama, spine surgeon

Dr. Andrew Sama specializes in the evaluation and surgical management of all traumatic, degenerative, and deformity-related conditions of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbosacral spine. Board certified in orthopedic surgery, he believes in a team approach to patient care. He is an active member of many spine societies, academic committees, and editorial review boards. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and a Diplomat of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgeons.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.