Published on March 10, 2013
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal Stenosis is a degenerative condition which causes a narrowing of the spinal column and may result in nerves becoming irritated and inflamed. This happens as a result of the narrowing and lack of space for the nerves to exit the spine. This lack of space is similar to a garden hose having pressure on it where the water isn’t able to flow smoothly. The same can be said for the nerve transmission. The pressure placed on the nerves will typically cause radiating pain, numbness, tingling, and a decrease in sensation.
Typically, the neurological symptoms will increase along with the severity of the stenosis. Some patients may experience a decrease in muscle strength, reflexes and sensory input. Based on your specific symptoms and examination, your doctor or therapist will decide if more tests are necessary to determine the best course of action.
Spinal Stenosis Symptoms Include Back Numbness & Back Tingling
If the stenosis is in the neck, then the radiating pain will typically be in shoulder and arm area. It can also radiate to the mid-back, as the nerves from the neck can innervate the muscles of your mid-back. Lumbar spinal stenosis will cause “sciatica” symptoms which means pain into the buttocks and down the leg.
Symptoms are usually caused by excessive pressure placed on the spine. This pressure may result from standing for extended periods of time and extending down the neck, which closes the spinal canal in the area where the nerves exit. Stenosis symptoms can be relieved with flexion based movements, such as bringing your chin to your chest, or bending forward at the waist to touch your toes. Stenosis cases are usually the opposite of disc herniation patients, where flexion will aggravate their condition.
A good test to identify if you may have spinal stenosis is to bend forward from the neck and or low back once you experience the pain. If the pain dissipates, it is likely that you have spinal stenosis. Another method of identifying spinal stenosis is to conduct a “bike test”. To perform this test, begin cycling in an upright position, and bend forward as soon as you feel pain in your legs. If the pain is relieved we have ruled out vascular claudication versus stenosis aka neurogenic claudication.
Often you will see aging individuals walking in an overly stooped posture. This can be because of spinal stenosis as this is the only way they will find relief from their pain.
A great way to help prevent spinal degenerative conditions from occurring in the first place is to do exercises to create motion which lubricates your joints. Remember motion is lotion and the less you weigh the less stress there is to your joints.
Spinal Stenosis Exercises
Two excellent exercises to target the stabilizing muscles of your low back and neck are the following:
1. Squats and Lunges – target your glutes which stabilize your pelvis and spine. The glutes are the largest muscles in your body and thus should be trained to generate the power and strength necessary to maintain proper spinal alignment. When squatting pretend to push the floor apart with your feet to create greater glute and core activation. The same can be said for lunging, where you should focus on pressing up from your glute and squeezing your buttocks together as you propel yourself forward.
For your squats, stand with feet in a hip width position and lower the body as if you are sitting into a chair pushing the glutes out as you press the floor apart with your feet. Lower to a position that is pain relieving and come back up with squeezing the feet out against the floor, squeezing the glutes and core.
For your lunges, step forward with one foot and make sure that both knees go down at 90 degrees. Try to keep you spine neutral and in a pain relieving position. Push back from the glutes to the ready position once you have gone down to a 90/90 position with the back knee approximately an inch from the floor.
Try doing 8-20 repetitions in a slow controlled manner.
2. Chin Retractions – target the deep neck flexors and are done by where you push your neck back into alignment over your shoulders will help to activate these muscles.
Sitting tall, shoulders relaxed tuck your chin into your neck and gently slide your head backwards to position your ears in line with your shoulders.
Try doing 5-10 repetitions with 5-10 second holds.