Back Pain: Why is it affecting my balence?


I am 62. For years I have been plagued by a problem which seems to be related to balance. I have long had a rather bad sense of balance, but the specific problem which bothers me is an inability to walk more than a mile or so without finding it harder and harder to stay upright, accompanied by considerable fatigue in the lower back and legs, which gets harder and harder to control. If I don't sit down I become quite distressed, but recover after a rest. I am generally quite healthy otherwise.

Dr Fred Kavalier answers your health question:

These symptoms suggest that there is a problem in your lower spine, and I think you may well be suffering from spinal stenosis.The spinal cord sits in a narrow canal inside the vertebral bones that make up the spine. Spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs when the spinal canal becomes too narrow, which puts pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves that come out of it. The symptoms of spinal stenosis develop extremely slowly, usually over many years, and the problems are often put down to "getting old", "arthritis" or "a bad back".The typical symptoms are low back and leg pain, which get worse with activity and exercise. As the pressure on the spinal cord increases, you can lose the ability to control your legs, which seems like a loss of balance. Standing upright tends to make the spinal canal even narrower.People with spinal stenosis often stoop over as an unconscious way of relieving pressure on the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis is usually caused by degeneration of the bones and tissues of the spine. Occasionally it is caused by a tumour or some other unusual injury, but this is quite rare. An examination by a doctor may not show anything wrong, but a CT or MRI scan of the spine will show a narrowed spinal canal.Don't ignore your symptoms - see a neurologist before the problem gets too bad. If you do ignore the problem, it may eventually affect your bladder and bowel control. You may end up needing surgery, to relieve spinal-cord pressure.

Please mail your questions for Dr Fred to health@independent.co.uk. He regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.

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