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Signs & Symptoms of Severe Spinal Stenosis

By George N. Root III ; Updated July 27, 2017

Severe spinal stenosis is the later stage of spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a condition in which arthritis causes bone buildup in the spine, putting pressure on the nerves. The condition is diagnosed using a series of physical tests and the results from radiology exams such as MRIs. The condition often is treated with a regiment of physical therapy and pain medication. In more serious cases, surgery may be required.

Leg Pain

You may experience a variety of different kinds of leg pain when you are suffering from severe spinal stenosis. You may feel severe pain or cramping in your legs if you stand in an upright position for an extended period of time. The discomfort will leave once you sit down or if you bend forward. One type of leg pain associated with severe spinal stenosis stems from pressure on the nerve and is called false claudification. The other kind of leg pain experienced during severe spinal stenosis results from pressure put on the blood vessels in the legs and is called vascular claudification. The way to tell them apart is that false claudification can cause severe pain when walking downhill, while vascular claudification causes pain when walking uphill.

Radiating Pain

You may begin to experience pain that radiates down one side of your body as a symptom of severe spinal stenosis. It normally radiates down one of your legs, and the pain can become more intense when you are sitting. It is possible that this pain could go from being a sharp and burning pain to a tingling sensation that eventually could lead to numbness in the leg. After a while you may also notice that your leg is becoming weaker and you have less control over it.

Bladder Control

Some of the symptoms of the later stages of spinal stenosis are a loss of bladder control and a loss of bowel control. You also may experience a dramatic reduction in sex drive and sex performance.

Neck Pain

Depending on where in the spine you are experiencing the effects of severe spinal stenosis, you may start to experience severe pain in the base of your neck. It can be painful to move your head from side to side, and it can be extremely painful to try to look straight up from a seated position. You may notice that leaning forward slightly will reduce the pain, but as severe spinal stenosis progresses, even leaning forward may not bring adequate relief.


As spinal stenosis advances to become severe spinal stenosis, you may start to find it very painful to walk. If the tingling in your legs has progressed to numbness, you may find it difficult to walk. As the condition continues to develop your ability to use one or both of your legs can become severely inhibited to the point where walking may not be possible after a while.

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