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Back Stories

The “Shopping Cart Sign” and spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis and the shopping cartSpinal Stenosis & the Shopping Cart Sign

Knowing how to interpret the “shopping cart sign” when dealing with spinal stenosis pain

So there you are, shopping at the supermarket and suffering from the debilitating back pain that has dogged you for weeks, when, suddenly, you bend over the cart, and…voila! Your spinal stenosis pain is gone. You stand up straight again, and the pain returns. Bend over: Gone. While this may seem like a curious phenomenon, and you may be seriously thinking of moving in to the grocery store for a while, there’s a good reason for the pain relief—and there’s even a name for it: The “shopping cart sign.”

Leaning forward over the shopping cart flexes the spine slightly, which reduces the compression on the spine and therefore the pain felt while walking. Dr. Mark C. ValenteBoard certified and fellowship trained orthopedic spine surgeon and Founder and Medical Director of the DISC Spine Institute, a leader in minimally invasive back treatments and surgical procedures, has seen the phenomena time and time again, and he cautions patients against getting too excited about the temporary pain relief.

“The momentary physical change can sometimes have a lasting change on patients’ mental state,” he said. “What you don’t want is for a patient to interpret the ‘shopping cart sign’ as an indication that they are going to magically get better on their own or that they don’t need treatment. A false feeling of security can be dangerous. The symptoms of spinal stenosis don’t go away on their own, and while they do typically worsen slowly, the condition can become dangerous or even dire if it affects the bowel or bladder function. Myelopathy, which can result from spinal cord compression, can be an irreversible condition.”

Treatment for spinal stenosis

Seeing a top spine doctor is crucial for treating spinal stenosis pain. Managing the condition may be as easy as an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and some doctor-prescribed balance and flexibility exercises. Many patients also improve after epidural steroid injections, which can calm inflamed nerves and are done as a quick and easy outpatient procedure.

For more involved cases and when symptoms have been left to progress, minimally invasive surgery may be needed. “Some people have severe cases,” said WebMD. “They struggle to walk or have issues with their bladder and bowel. Doctors may recommend surgery for these people. Procedures such as laminectomy create space between the bones so inflammation can go down.”

If you are experiencing spinal stenosis pain, contact the DISC Spine Institute, experts in back care and minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain today. Minimally invasive surgical techniques mean treating chronic back pain is easier than ever, with outpatient treatments, small incisions, and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.

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