Living with Spinal Stenosis
You start your day feeling fine and decide to head to the local mall. As you start to walk through the mall, pain begins in your thigh. You find a bench, sit down and the pain goes away. What you may be experiencing is spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal cord or the openings where spinal nerves leave the spinal column.
Spinal stenosis is the result of the body aging and is most common in those over age 50. Symptoms include but are not limited to leg pain (sciatica), numbness, tingling or burning, leg weakness or fatigue, low-back and buttocks pain. The pain may even extend to the calves and feet.
“Symptoms typically develop over time and can be intermittent,” says Ali Shah, M.D., M.S., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Good Shepherd Spine & Joint Center. “Patients with this condition find the symptoms worse in an upright position and better when leaning forward or sitting.”
An evaluation by a physician who specializes in spine care may include a physical exam for strength, movement, pain level and nerve function. Neurological tests such as an EMG, spinal MRI, CT scan and X-ray of the spine may be the next step.
Non-surgical treatments for spinal stenosis include: physical therapy, an exercise program, medication and spinal injections. “The goal is to manage the symptoms and keep the patient active for as long as possible,” says Dr. Shah.