What Causes Spinal Stenosis?

Causes Spinal Stenosis - Sita Bhateja Specialty Hospitals

Your backbone or spine is made up of 33 vertebrae, out of which 24 have spaces between them (cervical, thoracic and lumbar) while the remaining are fused (sacral and coccygeal). A small space with a cushioning pad exists between each separate vertebral bone to keep them moving smoothly and to absorb shocks. Spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing of this space between the vertebrae. This creates pressure on the numerous nerves that run throughout the spinal cord, triggering painful symptoms.

Spinal stenosis usually occurs in the neck (cervical) or in the lower back (lumbar). While most people develop spinal stenosis due to numerous reasons, there are a small percentage of people who are born with it (congenital). While a few lucky ones don’t feel anything due to the narrowing of space, a majority of people develop gradual radiating pain that won’t go away, especially as they grow older. Other common symptoms include weakness, tingling or numbness in an associated limb secondary to nerve compression in the spinal cord.

This condition is usually caused by wear and tear changes in the spine and related to aging and osteoarthritis. With the spine being such a delicate area, doctors recommend surgery only in extreme cases to create additional space between the vertebrae.

The natural causes behind development of spinal stenosis are numerous and include some of the following:


There are numerous types of tumors that can grow inside the spinal cord or around the membrane that covers the spinal canal; these tumors can even grow in the tiny space in-between the vertebra and the spinal cord. Unfortunately they can’t be imaged on MRIs or CT scans and therefore go undetected.

Herniated Disks

The soft cushions between your discs which act as shock absorbers tend to dry out with age. This makes them crack, allowing some of the inner material to leak out and create pressure on the surrounding nerves or spinal cord.

Bone Spurs

Osteoarthritis can cause wear-and-tear of the bones leading to formation of bone spurs or osteophytes which can grow into the spinal canal.

Calcified Ligaments

The vertebrae are held together by tough cords called ligaments which can become thickened or calcified over time. They can cause misalignment (spondylolisthesis) and bulging into the spine canal.

Spinal Injuries

There are a number of ways out there that can result in trauma to the spine, resulting in fracture or dislocation of one or more vertebrae. Such injuries can easily intrude into the spinal canal and lead to spinal stenosis.

Back surgeries or infections close to the spine could also lead to soft tissue swelling with increased pressure on the spinal cord nerves.

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