My 77-year old Nana was just diagnosed with spinal stenosis. What happens to people with this condition?
Stenosis refers to a narrowing or closure of an opening. In the spine, this refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal around the spinal cord. It can also mean narrowing of the small hole in the bone where the spinal nerves pass through.

Anything that narrows these openings can put pressure on the sensitive nerve tissue. Back and leg pain are common with this condition. Difficulty standing up straight and walking are also part of the picture for many patients.

What happens over time with a condition like spinal stenosis is called the natural history. Researchers have not studied the long-term results of lumbar spinal stenosis. We don't have a clear picture of the natural history for this problem.

There is treatment but we're not sure who benefits the most from it or why. Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually used along with physical therapy. The therapist can help patients with pain management, posture, and exercises. Sometimes activity modification can help, too. The therapist advises each patient according to his or her own situation.

If conservative care fails, surgery can be done. The bone around the spinal cord or spinal nerve is removed in order to take the pressure off. This is called surgical decompression. It works well for some patients but not at all for others. Again, we don't know who is most likely to have a good result. More study is needed in this area.