Dear Leaning In To Understand:
To learn why bending forward feels better for your dad, let's first do a quick study of stenosis.
The word "stenosis" means a narrowing. It can occur in many passageways in the body (you may have heard of a stenosis in a blood vessel or a heart valve, for example). Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the canal formed by the body's interlocking vertebral bones. Stacked one atop of the other, these bones form a passageway (known as the spinal canal) through which the spinal cord runs.
Anything that narrows the canal—or the holes through which spinal nerves exit—can cause spinal stenosis. In many bodies, spinal stenosis arises as part of the natural aging process. When the stabilizing cushions in between the bones of our spines break down with time, the body compensates by building more bone. With little room to spare in the spine, these bony growths can narrow the canal and put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. The lower back and neck are often affected due to the excess wear-and-tear these areas endure.
Stenosis most often appears in people over 60 years of age (Kalichman, 2009). Like other age-related changes, it can cause problems for some and go unnoticed in others. If symptoms occur, they can be similar to a pinched nerve, and often affect both sides of the body.
What your dad experiences are tell-tale symptoms of lumbar stenosis—pain that travels into one or both legs that is worse with walking and helped by bending forward (Lurie, 2016). When your father leans forward, he rounds his spine—this posture creates more space in between the bones of his lower back, relieving some of the pressure that is causing his pain.
To learn more about stenosis and how to manage its symptoms, talk to your integrative care team at Vori Health.