It may seem counterintuitive, but the pain you feel in your legs may actually be caused by a problem in your spine called stenosis. As we age, areas of the spinal column can become pinched or narrowed, resulting in the constriction and irritation of nerves surrounding the spine. This may result in a variety of problems, including pain or numbness in the back, shoulders, arms and the legs. In its most severe form, spinal stenosis can have a dire effect on bowel and bladder function.
The most common kind of stenosis affects the lower spine. When the nerves in this area are compressed, a condition called pseudo claudication occurs, whereby a pain or cramp you feel in your legs when you walk downhill improves when you stand still. A herniated disk can also narrow your spinal canal and compress nerves in your lower spine, leading to pain that starts in your hip or buttocks and extends down the back of your leg. This pain is worse when you sit and generally affects only one side.
Surgery can help in extreme cases, but symptoms often return years later due to continued degeneration of the spine. Unfortunately, postoperative pain may be even worse than the initial discomfort caused by the stenosis.
Many stenosis sufferers find relief through nonsurgical means, most commonly through physical therapy. We can design a series of exercises to help you strengthen and stabilize the spine, enhance your flexibility and release tension in tight muscles. By following such a program, hopefully you will be walking pain free before you know it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kim Gladfelter, MPT, OCS, FAAOMPT
Women's Health Physical Therapy Specialist at PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness
Kim Gladfelter is a physical therapist, Pilates instructor, educator, author, and co-founder of PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness. She is known as a keen, well-rounded expert of healing through movement and women’s health specialist in the Silicon Valley area.
Kim has helped men and women of all ages to stay active and feel their best. She also writes about managing pain in her health columns, blogs and the local Los Altos Town Crier newspaper as well as reaches out to the local community, support groups, schools, libraries, and sports centers to advise and educate on body awareness and therapeutic exercise.