Overview of spinal stenosis — including causes and treatments

Spinal stenosis is a degenerative spine condition that occurs when the spinal canal or other nerve pathway becomes narrowed due to displaced spinal anatomy. The onset of this condition is typically gradual as spinal anatomy naturally wears out over time. This condition doesn’t always cause symptoms, but can become debilitating due to pain and mobility problems resulting from nerve compression.

If you or someone you know is dealing with spinal stenosis, the following overview is intended to help you gain a better understanding of this condition and the full range of treatments available. This knowledge can help you make a well-informed treatment decision with the best chance of returning you to the quality of life you deserve.

The spinal canal

The spinal canal is a tunnel formed by vertebrae that protects the spinal cord and other integral components of the central nervous system. There are also openings between the vertebrae that allow nerve roots to exit the spinal column, called foramina. In close proximity to these nerve pathways are a number of moving parts that absorb shock and allow for movement in the neck and back. The spinal discs separate and cushion the vertebrae, while vertebral joints connect adjacent vertebrae and stabilize the spine.


Spinal stenosis develops when the area within the spinal canal is narrowed as a result of the presence of intrusive spinal materials. This condition is typically the result of another degenerative spine condition that contributes to the constriction of the spinal canal or the foramina. Among the more common causes of spinal stenosis are:

  • Herniated disc material
  • Calcified ligaments
  • Bone spurs
  • Cartilage from arthritic joints
  • Spondylolisthesis, or vertebral slippage


The presence of spinal stenosis can lead to significant chronic pain along with other traveling symptoms when the condition results in the compression of a nerve root or the spinal cord. Effective treatment depends on identifying the origin of the stenosis. In some cases, conservative, nonsurgical treatment such as physical therapy and medication can offer sufficient relief from spinal stenosis pain.

In other instances, surgery might be considered if fully pursuing conservative treatment does not bring relief. A traditional open spine procedure is typically considered a last resort for patients who have exhausted all of their other options. This is due to the risks and difficulties involved with the large incision, overnight hospitalization and lengthy recovery traditional open spine surgery entails.

At Laser Spine Institute, our minimally invasive spine surgery is performed on an outpatient basis and offers our patients a shorter recovery time with less risk of complication compared to traditional procedures.^

Contact us today for a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to learn more and find out if you may be a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.

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