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Physical Exam for Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Topic Overview

A physical exam for spinal stenosis includes examination of the spine and testing:

  • The strength of the leg and foot muscles (motor examination). Weakness in certain muscles can indicate problems in specific nerve roots in the spine.
  • Sensation in the legs and feet (sensory examination). Altered sensations of light touch, temperature, bone vibration, or pain can indicate problems in specific nerve roots in the spine.
  • Reflexes in the legs and feet.
  • Your balance and ability to walk (gait). An abnormal balance or gait can indicate problems in specific nerve roots in the spine.
  • Your rectal function, to determine the health of the nerves controlling the bowel.

You will probably be asked to stand or walk around until symptoms begin. These tests may be repeated to compare results.

Other tests that may be done include the straight-leg-raising test and testing the range of motion in the hips to check for signs of osteoarthritis in the hips.

You can have spinal stenosis and still have a normal physical exam. Your doctor will carefully consider your symptoms and the results of imaging tests, such as MRI, before making a diagnosis.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
Last Revised February 13, 2012

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