Lumbar spinal stenosis is a condition in which the central canal is narrowed by tumour, disk prolapse or other similar degenerative changes.


  • Incidence: 10.00 cases per 100,000 person-years
  • Peak incidence: 60-70 years
  • Sex ratio: 1:1
Condition Relative
Lower back pain (non-specific, without sciatica)300.00
Bone metastases10.00
Lumbar spinal stenosis1
<1 1-5 6+ 16+ 30+ 40+ 50+ 60+ 70+ 80+


Degenerative disease is the commonest underlying cause. Degeneration is believed to begin in the intervertebral disk where biochemical changes such as cell death and loss of proteoglycan and water content lead to progressive disk bulging and collapse. This process leads to an increased stress transfer to the posterior facet joints, which accelerates cartilaginous degeneration, hypertrophy, and osteophyte formation; this is associated with thickening and distortion of the ligamentum flavum. The combination of the ventral disk bulging, osteophyte formation at the dorsal facet, and ligamentum flavum hyptertrophy combine to circumferentially narrow the spinal canal and the space available for the neural elements. The compression of the nerve roots of the cauda equina leads to the characteristic clinical signs and symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis.

Clinical features

Patients may present with a combination of back pain, neuropathic pain and symptoms mimicking claudication. One of the main features that may help to differentiate it from true claudication in the history is the positional element to the pain. Sitting is better than standing and patients may find it easier to walk uphill rather than downhill. The neurogenic claudication type history makes lumbar spinal stenosis a likely underlying diagnosis, the absence of such symptoms makes it far less likely.


MRI scanning is the best modality for demonstrating the canal narrowing. Historically a bicycle test was used as true vascular claudicants could not complete the test.