Spinal Stenosis exercises are one of the conservative measures used along with painkiller drugs and heating modalities for symptom relief. The reality remains that spinal stenosis has no cure; however, these exercises help improve the symptoms. Those affected have limited mobility and flexibility. Extending, side bending, and twisting the body is limited; some individuals are in such severe pain that even standing up is a great challenge.

The exercises for spinal stenosis performed regularly increase and maintain muscle strength. Learning specific exercises that target the back muscles is helpful. Spinal stenosis exercises, that target those of the arm and legs, enhance a person’s mobility, gait, endurance as well as stability. This is where physical therapists come to the picture. They are allied health professionals who develop individualized spinal stenosis exercise programs for patients.

What are the best Spinal Stenosis exercises ?

Exercises for spinal stenosis require active participation from the patient. The physical therapist not only teaches the patient regarding these exercises, but also explains the role of the patient as well as his family members in the treatment sessions.                                              Spinal Stenosis exercises

Patient education is a vital key to any successful treatment. Studies show faster symptom relief with active participation of the patient. The patient is also taught how to use his body properly and improve his posture and stability. Education is the guiding factor that may make the Spinal stenosis exercise program a success or a failure.

This may be a bit hard at first. The quote, ‘Seek to understand to be understood’, comes handy. Most patients come complaining of low back pain. They may be irritable and passive especially in the preliminary treatments sessions. They need the health care team’s patience, empathy, and understanding. Communication is the key in such cases. Explanation of the spinal stenosis exercise program needs to focus and meet the needs of the patient. This ensures better patient compliance.

Spinal Stenosis may cause impingement of the largest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve. This causes a painful condition known as sciatica. The following exercises help to alleviate the symptoms:

1. Forward Bends

It is important not to encourage hyperextension or backward bending of the spine. This motion further compresses the sciatic nerve, making the symptoms worse. Bending forward, on the contrary, decompresses the nerve. For this reason, patients experience less pain or discomfort when they walk with a stooped posture with the use of a cane or a walker.

These spinal stenosis exercises combine movements aimed at improving the strength of the muscles that moves the spine forward and backward. Some specific exercises include:

  • Knee-to-chest – This is performed with the patient lying on a plinth, face up. To stretch the back, patient actively draws his knees toward the chest, done easily by grasping the back portion of the thigh. Then patient holds this position for 30 seconds before going back to the original position. For someone just starting this spinal stenosis exercise, doing both knees may be hard at first. Begin with one knee at a time. Repeat four to six times for each set. Progress this exercise by drawing both knees to chest.
  • Strengthening Exercises – These are specifically aimed at improving the abdominal and the trunk muscles, two of the important muscles that form the support system of the spine. The common strengthening exercises are curl-ups and sit-ups. Curl-ups are done arms folded across the thorax. Patient is instructed to make tummy tight by lifting upper thorax and head off the mat/plinth. Then patient sustains this position for 2 to 4 seconds before going back to the original position. Progress in these exercises is made as per patient’s tolerance. Strengthening of the lower limb muscles is also necessary and may be achieved by using mechanical devices or by using ankle weights; poundage increased as patient’s strength improves.

2. Motions for flexibility – The basic active movements of the joints are taught, which often help to relieve the pain felt by patient.

3. General Exercises – These spinal stenosis exercises include aerobic exercises and swimming; may be done on land or water. As backward bending, rotation and side bending is avoided in spinal stenosis, patients may prefer doing these exercises seated or on a bike. If this cannot be tolerated, spinal stenosis exercises are done in water, under the supervision of a physical therapist specialized in aquatic rehabilitation.

In any exercise regimen, ‘it takes two or more to tango’. Depending on the client’s health situation, treatment may last from several weeks to months. Objectives of the treatment need to be determined prior to starting a session. All parties involved including the therapist, patient and his family need to listen to one another. Cooperation from the patient is very important.

Aside from the spinal stenosis exercises program, patients may be recommended assistive and supportive devices to aid in mobility. The combination of several conservative measures including drugs, exercise and use of assistive devices may work to relieve the symptoms of spinal stenosis to a large extent. However, when the conservative measures are not able to provide enough relief, one may opt for the last resort, surgery.

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