Is Spinal Stenosis a Disability?

Christian Worstell
In this article...
  • Learn about spinal stenosis, whether it qualifies for disability benefits and how to apply. Find out more about how to live with spinal stenosis and explore resources and treatment options.
A doctor smiles and speaks with her patient

In this guide, we will uncover the complexities of lumbar spinal stenosis, whether it qualifies for Social Security disability benefits and how to apply.

We'll also explore spinal stenosis and its various forms, common causes and diagnostic methods. We'll also detail non-surgical treatments like physical therapy and epidural injections before exploring surgical options for pain relief.

This guide takes some insights from North American Spine Society's Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial (SPORT). Whether you're experiencing back or leg pain or are interested in learning more about this clinical syndrome that affects many people worldwide, this guide could help as you explore ways to live with spinal stenosis.

Table of Contents:


Is Spinal Stenosis a Permanent Disability?

In some instances, spinal stenosis can progress to a point where it results in permanent impairment. Depending on your situation, spinal stenosis could qualify you for disability benefit payments if you meet certain eligibility requirements:

  • Your pain or loss of sensation is local in one or both of your lower extremities.

  • You have a physical exam or diagnostic test that shows muscle weakness along with certain sensory changes or decreased reflexes.

  • Your doctor can provide findings on imaging (like an x-ray or an MRI) or from a surgery report that demonstrate lumbar spinal stenosis.

  • Your spinal stenosis must have been present for at least 12 months or longer and is expected to remain so in the future.

To demonstrate how their condition affects their daily life, individuals will be asked provide medical records from doctors who have treated them, as well as any other pertinent information regarding treatments attempted or medications taken to manage symptoms associated with spinal stenosis. This may include physical therapy notes and reports from specialists who have monitored them throughout the course of treatment.

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition wherein the spinal canal becomes narrowed, compressing nerves in the spine. Arthritis, age-related wear and tear of the spine, or an injury to the vertebrae can all lead to spinal stenosis. Symptoms may include pain in the lower back or neck, numbness and tingling in one or both legs, weakness in one or both legs, and difficulty walking.

Lumbar stenosis, the most common form of this condition, affects the lower back and can lead to sciatic nerve compression resulting in pain radiating down one leg from your lumbar area to below your knee. Less common, cervical spinal stenosis affects your neck (cervical) region and can cause neck pain as well as numbness and tingling down into your arms and hands.

Assessing whether spinal stenosis is a permanent impairment or not can be complicated until the effects of treatments have been seen in the long run. Depending on the severity at diagnosis, mild cases may improve over time with regular management, while more advanced cases may require lifelong care.

Close monitoring by a treating physician during follow up visits will help determine if any further action needs to be taken for successful and lasting relief from symptoms. 

Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis

Diagnosing spinal stenosis requires a physical exam and imaging tests. Your doctor will assess the affected area for any signs of tenderness or pain during the physical exam. They may also ask you to walk on your toes or heels to test how much movement is possible in the affected area.

Imaging tests can help confirm a diagnosis of spinal stenosis.

  • X-rays are commonly used to look for signs of narrowing between vertebrae and degenerative changes that could be causing pressure on nerves.

  • An MRI can generate clearer images than an X-ray, displaying any irregularities in the spine like herniated discs or tumors that may be compressing nerves.

  • A CT scan is another option which creates cross-sectional images of the spine using x-rays taken from multiple angles. This type of scan can provide further detail about bone structures and soft tissues such as ligaments around the spine.

  • Nerve conduction studies (NCS) and electromyography (EMG) may be employed if the doctor suspects nerve damage due to compression caused by spinal stenosis. NCS measure electrical activity along a nerve pathway when stimulated with electrodes placed at various points, while EMG assesses muscle activity during contraction and relaxation cycles.

By utilizing a combination of testing, physicians can gain sufficient understanding of the patient's condition to generate an exact diagnosis and create a suitable treatment plan depending on the degree of symptoms and root cause(s).

To properly address spinal stenosis, it is essential to consult with a medical professional for the best possible treatment plan. Next, we will discuss treating spinal stenosis and explore the various treatment options available.

Treating Spinal Stenosis

It can cause pain and other symptoms such as numbness or weakness in your legs, arms, or torso. Fortunately, there are various methods of handling this disorder.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen can reduce inflammation and pain associated with spinal stenosis. Your doctor may also prescribe muscle relaxants for spasms caused by nerve compression due to spinal stenosis. Opioids may be prescribed if NSAIDs don’t provide adequate relief from your symptoms.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can teach you exercises that strengthen muscles around the spine and improve posture to relieve pressure on the nerves caused by spinal stenosis. Stretching exercises may also help reduce stiffness of affected joints while increasing flexibility of tight muscles near the spine.


If conservative treatments do not provide enough relief from your symptoms, surgery might be an option for treating spinal stenosis.

Surgery typically involves removing bone spurs or disc material that is pressing against a nerve root or narrowing down part of the vertebrae so more space is created for the nerves to pass through without being compressed by bones or ligaments around them.

This procedure is known as laminectomy, and it usually provides long-term relief from pain associated with spinal stenosis when combined with physical therapy afterwards to maintain good posture and prevent recurrence of symptoms over time.

Living with Spinal Stenosis

Living with spinal stenosis can be hard, yet there are numerous approaches to help with pain relief.

It’s important to stay active and keep your muscles strong, as this will help reduce the pressure on your spine. Staying active can not only help reduce pressure on the spine, but also provide stress relief and improved mental health. Activities like swimming, yoga, strolling, and cycling can be helpful for keeping fit and reducing strain on the spine.

It’s also important to pay attention to posture when sitting or standing for long periods of time. Sitting in an upright position helps alleviate pressure on the spine by keeping it aligned correctly. You should also avoid bending over at the waist when picking up objects from the floor; instead bend at your knees while keeping your back straight.

If you have trouble getting around due to pain or stiffness, using a cane or walker can provide additional support and stability while walking short distances.

To maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid further injury, it is essential to ensure adequate rest between activities throughout the day in order to allow your body time to heal from any inflammation caused by spinal stenosis. Taking regular breaks throughout the day will help prevent fatigue which could lead further injury if not managed properly through adequate rest periods between activities during waking hours throughout a typical 24-hour cycle period.

Heat therapy can be an effective means of managing symptoms associated with spinal stenosis such as muscle spasms and joint stiffness caused by inflammation in the soft tissues surrounding affected vertebrae discs located within the lumbar region.

Recent studies conducted by National Institute of Health (NIH) have found that due to age-related factors like poor nutrition habits, lack of physical activity, and osteoarthritis that this area is more vulnerable among aging populations leading to higher incidence rates than younger individuals. Heat therapy relaxes tense muscles allowing for greater range of motion which reduces discomfort levels significantly, granting a sense of empowerment needed to tackle daily tasks without feeling overwhelmed or anxious about them in the first place.

Finally, don't forget about diet. Eating healthy foods rich in vitamins A and C can help reduce inflammation associated with spinal stenosis symptoms while providing essential nutrients necessary for overall wellbeing. This includes increased energy levels and improved cognitive functioning which play a major role in maintaining a positive outlook on life even though the diagnosis might seem daunting initially.

By making lifestyle modifications, it is possible to attain a more fulfilling life with greater wellbeing despite any difficulties encountered.


What is the latest research on spinal stenosis?

Recent studies have indicated that for certain cases, physical therapy and exercise can be a viable approach to managing spinal stenosis. Medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants, may be beneficial in reducing the pain associated with spinal stenosis.

Surgery may also be an option for those who do not respond to conservative treatment methods. Before committing to any treatment, it is advisable to consult with your doctor and review all possible options.

What is the most successful treatment for spinal stenosis?

The most beneficial approach for spinal stenosis is a mix of physical therapy, medications, and modifications to one's lifestyle. Physical therapy can help to reduce pain and improve mobility by stretching the muscles in the back, strengthening them with exercises, and improving posture.

Medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants may be prescribed to relieve pain. Lifestyle modifications such as avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms or using heat/cold treatments can also provide relief from discomfort associated with spinal stenosis. Surgery may be necessary in more severe cases when other methods are not effective enough.

What are the newest treatments for spinal stenosis?

Depending on the degree of symptoms, various treatments are available for spinal stenosis ranging from physical therapy to surgical decompression. Treatment options for spinal stenosis may include physical therapy, medications, lifestyle changes, steroid injections, epidural injections, surgery and device implantation.

Newer therapies such as stem cell therapy are being explored. Additionally, research is being conducted into newer treatments such as stem cell therapy to evaluate their potential advantages in treating spinal stenosis.


Managing spinal stenosis is possible, allowing you to lead an active life despite the condition. With proper diagnosis, treatment options and lifestyle modifications, you can minimize the impact of this condition on your quality of life.

It's important to remember that while spinal stenosis may not be curable in some cases, there are still ways to reduce pain and improve mobility. Discuss with your physician the potential treatments that could be most beneficial for you to help restore your desired lifestyle.

Christian Worstell
About the Author

Christian Worstell is a senior Medicare and health insurance writer with He is also a licensed health insurance agent. Christian is well-known in the insurance industry for the thousands of educational articles he’s written, helping Americans better understand their health insurance and Medicare coverage.

Christian’s work as a Medicare expert has appeared in several top-tier and trade news outlets including Forbes, MarketWatch, WebMD and Yahoo! Finance.

While at HelpAdvisor, Christian has written hundreds of articles that teach Medicare beneficiaries the best practices for navigating Medicare. His articles are read by thousands of older Americans each month. By better understanding their health care coverage, readers may hopefully learn how to limit their out-of-pocket Medicare spending and access quality medical care.

Christian’s passion for his role stems from his desire to make a difference in the senior community. He strongly believes that the more beneficiaries know about their Medicare coverage, the better their overall health and wellness is as a result.

A current resident of Raleigh, Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. You can find Christian’s most recent articles in our blog.

If you’re a member of the media looking to connect with Christian, please don’t hesitate to email our public relations team at

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