By Hannah Berman


The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimates that 8 to 11 percent of the population suffers from a condition known as spinal stenosis. As with just about everything in life, there are variations regarding its symptomology. Many of those with stenosis suffer no pain at all, while some have moderate discomfort. I won the lottery: I am among those who have severe pain from this condition. Having suffered with this condition for several years, I am unable to stand upright for more than a few minutes at a time.

Spinal stenosis causes narrowing in the spine which puts pressure on the nerves and spinal cord, thus causing pain. It occurs mostly in people older than 50, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, as younger people with a spine injury or a narrow spinal canal are also at risk, and conditions such as arthritis and scoliosis can also cause stenosis. Lumbar spinal stenosis may not be completely reversible, but if it’s diagnosed early, one can definitely reduce and possibly even reverse some symptoms.

So I researched the various solutions to the nagging problem. Physical therapy was my first choice, but to date I have achieved no real success with PT. That might have something to do with the fact that I never kept up the therapy. Compliance is not my strong suit. The same is true with regard to exercise; I never stuck with that either. My compliance waxes and wanes. It waxes when my pain is intense and wanes when I get discouraged with the lack of progress. For these reasons, it is not accurate to claim that I did my best but still achieved little progress. Like with many other things in my life, I expect immediate results.

There is also surgery to help this condition but, as a longtime coward, I decided that surgery was not an option for me. I took an informal, as well as minimal, survey. My idea of taking a survey was to question a handful of stenosis sufferers. The survey results were as follows: I learned that there are many people who attained permanent success from surgery and just as many who had the surgery and got little or no relief. Naturally, I focused on the latter group. (We cowards do things like that.) I have also been told to get injections. My doctor suggested that I contact an anesthesiologist and possibly opt for an epidural. But first I would need a repeat MRI. I have not done that yet, though I’m working on it.

Thus far I have done little other than kvetch. My solution, a less than terrific one at that, is to use a cane or a walker that has a seat so I can sit when the pain of remaining upright becomes intense.

There are many things about this painful condition that bother me, but there is one particular word describing stenosis that really grates on me. That word is “narrowing.” Of all the body parts that I would like to see narrow, why did it have to be my spine? What would have been so bad if it was my hips that got narrower? Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way!

It is my supreme wish that nobody will contact me in a kind effort to be of help. I don’t want to hear how important physical therapy is, or that exercise would be beneficial. I know all that. I also hope that I won’t receive any emails or calls to let me know that surgery is a good idea. I am aware of all options. But I am who I am, so I’m in a holding pattern for the time being. That’s just the way it is.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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