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What is lumbar spinal stenosis?

Anatomy of the spine

The spinal column is located at the heart of the musculoskeletal system. It consists of 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, 5 lumbar vertebrae and the sacrum. Intervertebral discs are located in between the vertebrae, and these 23 discs increase the spine’s elasticity and mobility. They also serve as shock absorbers.

The spinal canal

The spinal canal is positioned at the centre of the spine. Vertebral arches (with spinous processes) are located at the back of the canal. Although spinal stenosis can occur at any level of the spinal canal, it most commonly occurs in the neck and the lower back.

Normal back

Normal person

Person suffering from lumbar spinal stenosis

Person suffering from lumbar spinal stenosis

Causes of a lumbar spinal stenosis

Degeneration of the spine

Degeneration of the spinal column is a normal process to which everyone is prone to some degree. Some people naturally have narrower spinal canals than others.

When the spine begins to degenerate, the bands (ligaments) between the vertebrae thicken. In addition, the small facet joints, which overlap and connect the vertebral arches on the back of the spine, enlarge (which is to say they become wider and flatter). As a result, the nerve roots will have less space, especially in the small groove where the nerve roots leave the spinal canal. In some cases, a bulging intervertebral disc may contribute to the narrowing of the spinal canal.

Symptoms of a lumbar spinal stenosis

Pain in both legs

Only nerves pass through the bottom of the spinal canal. Pain and other symptoms are caused by the pressure being exerted on these nerves. As a result, symptoms may resemble those of a hernia. Many patients will suffer from pain in both legs, which will become more intense when they are walking. As a result, the symptoms rather resemble those of peripheral vascular disease.

Patients will experience pain when walking. Sometimes they will also experience numbness and/or a loss of strength in their legs. The pain will quickly subside when such patients take a break from walking, especially when they bend over, crouch or sit down. This is because walking will cause the spine to bend a little more, which will increase the amount of pressure exerted on the nerve. The narrowing of the spinal canal will subside a little when the patient bends over or crouches. Therefore, patients suffering from lumbar spinal stenosis are generally quite able to ride a bike. They generally prefer to lean on a trolley when out grocery shopping.

Diagnosis of a lumbar spinal stenosis

Physical examination

In addition to listening to the patient’s complaints and performing a thorough neurological examination, the neurosurgeon will carry out a medical imaging procedure. MRI of the lumbar spine is the first examination of choice and generally shows the abnormality in great detail. Additionally, a CT scan may be performed to obtain a better understanding of the patient’s bone structures.

Diagnosis of a lumbar spinal stenosis

Diagnosis of a lumbar spinal stenosis

Diagnosis of a lumbar spinal stenosis

Diagnosis of a lumbar spinal stenosis

Finally, the surgeon will have to rule out the possibility that the patient’s discomfort and other symptoms are caused by a vascular disorder in the patient’s leg, since such a disorder presents with the same symptoms. This is easy to determine in a physical examination, by palpating the legs and feet. If it is hard to feel a pulse in the legs and feet, an additional peripheral vascular examination will have to be performed first.

Surgery of a lumbar spinal stenosis

Surgical treatment

Generally speaking, it is quite obvious from a patient’s symptoms and experiences and from the examination results whether a patient requires surgery or not. Even so, it is up to the patient to decide whether or not s/he wishes to undergo surgery, because only the patient knows the severity of the discomfort s/he is experiencing.

In order to remove the stenosis, the patient is operated on from the back of the spine. This procedure is called bony decompression and involves making a small incision in the middle of the lower back, exactly above the level of the stenosis. The spinal canal is opened between the back muscles and two vertebral arches, and excess connective tissue and bone tissue are removed, to the extent necessary, so as to relieve the compressed sciatic nerves branching off the spinal canal.

So what happens when I undergo surgery?

Click the button below for some general information on operations performed by Dr Schröder.

More information on surgery

Risks of lumbar spinal stenosis surgery

Potential post-operative complications

Like any other operation, lumbar spinal stenosis surgery carries a few risks. However, complications are highly unlikely to occur. After all, lumbar spinal stenosis operations are carried out many times a year at our clinics.

Even so, we may encounter some neurological failure after the operation. This is generally caused by the fact that the nerve, which had been compressed for a long time, had to be manipulated during the operation. Common risks also include inflammation or a wound that will not heal properly. Subsequent bleeding is a very rare but highly unpleasant complication. The well-known cerebrospinal fluid leak is another, none too severe complication. A fluid leak is a tiny tear in the sac that holds the cerebrospinal fluid. When this happens during surgery, the leak will be sealed at once, and it will not have any lasting consequences. In very rare cases the tear will continue to leak. If this happens, the tear will have to be resealed at a later stage.

After surgery of a lumbar spinal stenosis

Tips from a physiotherapist

Following the operation, the patient’s follow-up appointments will be with a physiotherapist, who will provide some useful tips to help the patient load his back and make a full recovery while the patient is still at our clinics. Typically, patients are able to walk again the day after their operation. They are free to go home, then, depending on the size of their wound.

Follow-up examination

Two weeks after the operation, the patient will be called for a phone check-up during which his or her current condition will be discussed. Generally, the patient will be told on this occasion that s/he is allowed to resume normal activities and increase the load on the back. If the patient is already experiencing a clear improvement, no further steps will have to be taken at this point.

Resuming exercise and returning to work

The patient will be allowed to undergo supervised physiotherapy upon his or her discharge from the clinic if s/he is in a poor physical condition or afraid to start moving again. Embarking on an intensive back and abdominal muscle training programme soon after the operation is not recommended, as the back muscle will not have full pulling force for the first 3 to 6 months following surgery. The duration of the post-operative recovery period differs from patient to patient. Whether or not a patient will be allowed to return to work soon after an operation obviously depends on the nature of the person’s duties. Patients should always listen to their bodies and take a break whenever their bodies tell them they have had enough.

Patiënt testimonials

Many patients like to share their experiences with people who experience similar conditions, but have not yet had surgery.

Read some of the patient testimonials treated by Dr Schröder.

View all testimonials

  • Treatment of a spinal hernia

    23 May 2024

    Testimonial from "Zorgkaart Nederland"

    "Extremely pleased with Dr Schröder and Park Medical clinic. My pain was horrible and Dr Schröder and Park Medical clinic managed to fit in my surgery in very short notice."

    Read more

  • Treatment of a neck hernia

    03 August 2015

    A. van Raay's testimonial

    “Several neurosurgeons didn’t want to risk it. Dr Schröder immediately saw the nature of my problem, and a week later I went under the knife.”

    Read more

  • Treatment of a neck hernia

    23 July 2015

    Friso de Bruin's testimonial

    “I had an appointment with Mr Schröder on 29 June, and after having a good and clear conversation with him, an operation was scheduled for 8am on 2 July.”

    Read more

  • Treatment of a neck hernia

    16 June 2015

    Leo's testimonial

    “He provided excellent information on the procedure he was going to carry out and the risks I’d have to take into account. Partly because of this, I went into the operation with great confidence.”

    Read more

  • Treatment of a spinal hernia

    09 June 2015

    C.M. Boogaard-van der Kreeft's testimonial

    "Dr Schröder performed my operation. The operation went well. The pain in my hips and legs was gone at once."

    Read more


The neurosurgeon

Dr Schröder first registered as a certified neurosurgeon in 2001. Until 2003, he worked in the neurosurgery department at the MC Haaglanden in The Hague. After this he was a staff member of the neurosurgery department at the Slotervaart Hospital in Amsterdam until 2010, and from 2010 to 2022 he worked at Bergman Clinics in Naarden. Since 2020 he has been working at Park Medical Center in Rotterdam.

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Dr Schröder's blog

Dr Schröder regularly publishes new articles on his blog. Read all about spinal hernia, neck hernia, spinal stenosis, neurosurgery and other related subjects.

View all blog posts

  • 13. On coincidence, bad luck and science

  • 12. Dozing off

  • 11. The Big Spinal Quiz for the articulate patient

  • 10. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

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