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Shopping Cart Sign of the Spine: October 12, 2013

A familiar posture seen in grocery stores often points to a familiar diagnosis.

“Spinal stenosis is really a clinical diagnosis. Patients have this ‘shopping cart sign’ meaning they like to flex forward at the waist when they’re walking like you might do at Wal-Mart or Costco, when you’re pushing your shopping cart,” says Dr. Christopher Dawson, physical medicine & rehabilitation on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Most common in people over 60, spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal canal. Compressing the spinal cord can trigger nerve pain- felt in the back, hip or legs.  Many sufferers don’t know what’s wrong but realize they’re more comfortable hunched over a shopping cart.

“That happens to open up the canal of the spine to relieve pressure so patients obviously like to walk in a more flexed position in the waist. So positions which would make their symptoms worse would be standing up straight or laying flat in bed,” says Dr. Dawson.

Like grey hair and wrinkles, this condition is associated with natural aging. While you can’t turn back the clock, recognizing the condition can put you on the path to relief.

“Treatment of lumbar or spinal stenosis begins with activity modification, physical therapy, massage therapy, aquatic therapy, weight loss and also injection therapies can improve patient symptoms,” says Dr. Dawson.

That shopping-cart position could be a sign of the spine, telling you it’s time to see a doctor and face the diagnosis head on.