Health Information

We’ve Got Your Back

With 24 vertebrae and 23 disks, plus nerves, the spinal column and muscles—all having to work together—it’s no wonder that back pain is so common.

“Back pain is probably the most frequent condition, after the common cold, that brings patients in to see their family doctors,” says Agha S. Khan, MD, FACS, chief of Neurosurgery, University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus. In fact, it’s estimated that half of all working Americans experience back pain symptoms each year, ranging from minor twinges to extreme pain that keeps people from performing simple tasks.

One back condition that challenges daily activity is spinal stenosis. The symptoms include pain, especially when walking or standing, and numbness in the back, legs, arms and/or neck.

“This condition typically develops as we get older,” Dr. Khan says. The spinal column—the tube through which your nerves travel—narrows and puts pressure on your spinal nerves and spinal cord. Arthritis and scoliosis often lead to spinal stenosis, as can previous herniated disks.

People with spinal stenosis typically have trouble walking or standing for long periods. “Often, you’ll see that they’ll lean on grocery carts,” Dr. Khan says. “They find that when they lean forward, they feel more comfortable because space opens for the nerve sack.”

It’s important to see your doctor if you think you have spinal stenosis, as the pain will only increase over time. Typical treatments include physical therapy, cold or heat packs, medication and, potentially, surgery.

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