Pain in legs after walking short distance

Dr Nigel Kellow, Consultant Interventional Spine and Pain Physician describes how pain in the buttocks or legs after walking fairly short distances could be caused by spinal stenosis.A stenosis (or narrowing) of the central spinal canal will create pressure on the nerves and in particular, the sciatic nerve.

The pain caused by central spinal canal stenosis tends to stop within a few minutes on resting. This is called spinal claudication. Some people get symptoms of spinal stenosis simply on standing up from the sitting position. This is due to the central spinal canal being compromised simply by slight change in angle of the vertebrae as a result of standing.

Dr Kellow explains how spinal stenosis and other conditions of the ageing spine can be treated using the following approaches:

1. Physical therapy and exercise

The importance of maintaining strength in the muscles supporting the spine cannot be emphasised enough. Regular exercise that strengthens both the thick muscles either side of the spine as well as the supporting abdominal muscles can dramatically reduce the impact of degenerative changes in the lumbar spine.

2. Analgesics and other medications

Painkillers are often needed in order to try to avoid the development of an abnormal gait and posture that often develop as a consequence of spinal pain and which can lead to worse secondary problems, and to ensure continued mobility. 

3. Percutaneous image guided techniques

The image guided percutaneous treatment of spinal problems with small incisions or no incision at all is developing very rapidly, from spinal steroid injections as epidurals or nerve root blocks, through percutaneous discectomy or disc decompression.

4. Surgery

For advanced cases open surgery may still be required.

Relating to the abdomen, which is the region of the body between the chest and the pelvis. Full medical glossary
A cramp-like pain in a muscle, most often in the legs, due to inadequate blood supply. Full medical glossary
On or over the dura mater, the outermost of the three membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The epidural space is used for anaesthetising spinal nerve roots, for example during pregnancy. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of genetic material carried on chromosomes. Full medical glossary
The part of the back between the lowest ribs and the top of the pelvis. Full medical glossary
Tissue made up of cells that can contract to bring about movement. Full medical glossary
Bundle of fibres that carries information in the form of electrical impulses. Full medical glossary
Bundles of fibres that carry information in the form of electrical impulses. Full medical glossary
Usually related to medical procedures; entering the body through the skin. Full medical glossary
A condition in which the spinal canal narrows and compresses the spinal cord and nerves. Full medical glossary
Narrowing of a tubular structure or valve. Full medical glossary