Spinal Stenosis

When you come to the University of Michigan Health Comprehensive Spine Program for spinal stenosis, you’ll be evaluated by our multidisciplinary team of specialists who will work with you to determine a personalized treatment plan. Our goal is to offer the most advanced and least invasive treatment to help improve your quality of life.

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a chronic degenerative condition in which the spaces within the spine narrow, putting pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. As the discs lose water content and shrink, spurs often form and osteoarthritis develops. The ligaments can also thicken, resulting in a narrowing of the spinal canal where the nerves travel. 

The condition typically occurs in the lower back (lumbar stenosis) and the neck (cervical stenosis). It progresses with age and usually affects individuals over the age of 50. Treatment for spinal stenosis is based on symptoms and is aimed at reducing inflammation in the area where the spinal cord or nerve roots are constricted. In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery to create additional space for the spinal cord or nerves.

For more information about spinal stenosis watch “My Aching Back! The Aging Spine and Spinal Stenosis” presented by orthopaedic surgeons Rakesh Patel, M.D. and Illyas Aleem, M.D.


Symptoms associated with lumbar or cervical stenosis often start gradually and worsen over time. Symptoms vary depending on the location of the stenosis and the affected nerves.

Symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis include:

  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in the neck, shoulders, arm, hand, or leg
  • Problems with walking, balance/coordination, and fine motor tasks
  • Neck pain
  • In severe cases, bowel and bladder control problems may occur

Symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis include:

  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the leg and foot
  • Pain or cramping in one or both legs when standing for long periods of time or when walking
  • Back pain
  • In severe cases, loss of bowel or bladder control


Our collaborative team begins by conducting a complete medical history and physical exam, followed by advanced testing that may include:

  • Imaging such as X-rays, CT scancs, or MRI of the affected area
  • An EMG to asses the electrical activity of the nerves and muscles

After your diagnostic tests are completed, our specialists will talk with you about your treatment options.


Non-Surgical Treatment

Non-Surgical Treatment may include:

  • Physical therapy for strengthening the muscles
  • Stationery bike exercises – many patients with spinal stenosis can ride a stationary bike without pain
  • Pain management, including anti-inflammatory and pain medications, muscle relaxers, and steroid injections
  • Traditional medicine combined with holistic therapies such as yoga, healing touch, and acupuncture

Surgical Treatment

When symptoms don’t improve with conservative treatment or if there is a progression of neurologic symptoms, surgery may be recommended. Several types of surgery can be done depending on the severity of the disease, the patient’s age and other medical conditions. Surgical treatment options may include:

  • Laminectomy: Removal of fragments of bone and soft tissue, which are pushing on the nerves. This involves a 1-3 day hospital stay and may involve bracing. Typical recovery is 6-8 weeks.
  • Laminectomy and fusion: For more severe cases, these two procedures may be combined. A fusion is a procedure that reduces the movement in the damaged spine segment by permanently connecting two or more vertebrae using screws and rods to stabilize the spine. A bone graft is also typically performed using additional bone to fill in gaps between the vertebrae and stimulate the healing process. 
  • Laminoplasty: For cervical spinal stenosis, this procedure involves placement of spinal spacers to open the spinal canal. 
  • Disc replacement: For cervical spinal stenosis, this procedure involves removing a damaged or degenerated cervical disc and replacing it with an artificial disc.

Contact Us

You're about to make an important decision, and we want to help you make a good one. Our staff will be glad to talk with you about your options and how we can help. Please visit our Make an Appointment page for more information.