My mother-in-law has leg and back pain from spinal stenosis. There's been some talk about surgery for this problem. Is the risk of developing other problems from the surgery worth taking a chance to get some pain relief? We don't know what to tell her.

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal that often occurs with aging. Pain is worse when standing or walking and better when sitting. Unfortunately this can lead to deconditioning and weakness in older adults. The risk of falls increases under these circumstances. So finding a way to get relief from pain and improve function is important.

Older adults are also at greater risk of complications and problems related to the surgery. This is especially true if they have other health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Studies show that results from surgery for spinal stenosis are better if the patient has more leg pain compared to back pain. Overall results show success in about three-fourths of the older patients who have surgery for this problem. This means three out of four patients do well with surgery. There's no clear distinction to predict which patients won't do well.

A simple laminectomy to remove part of the bone may be all that's needed to help your mother-in-law get back on her feet again. With or without surgery, a good rehab program is advised. Consider making an appointment with the surgeon and discuss the pros and cons of surgery, the risks, and other possible treatment options available.