Some of my older patients have pain from nerve compression in the low back (lumbar spinal stenosis). I encourage them to keep moving, but often they tell me walking is just too painful. What determines their degree of difficulty walking?

A recent study links a few factors to walking ability for patients with lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS). The study involved 43 patients with a median age of 74. Sixty-five percent were women. Sixty-six percent of the patients said they were unable to walk farther than two blocks.

Poor balance was related to difficulty walking. Balance was assessed with the Romberg test, in which patients tried to stand with their feet close together and eyes closed without swaying. Interestingly, age had nothing to do with balance or walking ability.

Patients whose pain got worse as they walked were more likely to say they had a hard time staying active by walking. More surprising was the finding that women were more likely than men to have difficulty walking.