5 Tips for Preventing Spinal Stenosis

Prevent Spinal Stenosis

A man holding his low back grimaces.
Spinal stenosis increasingly causes back pain in seniors. kozzi2

Can you Prevent Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a potential consequence of osteoarthritis and/or degenerative changes in the spine. The hallmark of spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces through which the spinal cord and/or spinal nerve roots pass. Nerves and the spinal cord are made of very sensitive material, and when they come into contact with nearby bones, symptoms often result.

Arthritis and spinal stenosis usually results from aging or trauma from injuries, impact and the like.

How Spinal Stenosis is Created

Spinal stenosis is created over time as a spinal ligament called the ligamenum flavum gets bigger. This phenomenon is called hypertrophy or an overgrown ligamentum flavum. (The ligamentum flavum is located on a part of the bony ring that comprises the back of the spinal bones called the lamina, extending from 2nd neck vertebra all the way down the spinal column to the sacrum.)

Along with an overgrown ligamentum flavum, nearby facet joints develop bone spurs that encroach on the space made by the spinal canal.

A hypertrophic ligamentum flavum and/or bone spurs around the face joints may compress your nerves, creating pain, weakness, electrical-like (nerve) symptoms as well as difficulty walking. Difficulty with walking is the classic symptom of spinal stenosis and is known as neurogenic claudication.

We All Get At Least Some Arthritis

Let’s face it: Nearly every one of us will develop at least a little arthritis or experience some degenerative spinal changes, especially after we reach the age of 50. But most of us don’t want to experience the symptoms spinal stenosis. What to do? Can we prevent it? According to Johns Hopkins, the answer technically is no, for the very reason I just mentioned – that everyone gets it. They do say there are ways to reduce your risk, though.

Preventing spinal stenosis is largely a matter of emphasizing daily and weekly habits that should included for a healthy back in general. While making adjustments to your lifestyle may not seem like it's doing anything to help you prevent stenosis, keep in mind that each good habit you successfully change and/or maintain over time can contribute to the success of your overall prevention effort.

Slide on to review these basic lifestyle fixes, and to consider them in light of spinal stenosis specifically.


Spinal Stenosis. USC Center for Spinal Surgery website. Accessed July 2015.http://www.uscspine.com/conditions/back-spinal-stenosis.cfm

Prevent Spinal Stenosis Tip 1 - Get Regular Exercise

Woman resting on bike handle bars in front of the ocean.
Exercising regularly may help prevent spinal stenosi. Russ Rohde/Culture/Getty Images

Regular Exercise May Help Prevent Spinal Stenosis

We all need regular exercise – it just comes with the being human package. An exercise plan that’s tailored to who you are as individual - which means it takes your age, health concerns, including any arthritis or spinal stenosis you may already have, and your fitness level into consideration – may help you safely build your endurance, increase or maintain your spinal flexibility and develop those good ‘ole back supporting abdominal muscles.

What to Do if Exercise is Too Tough

Not an exercise buff? Or exercise gives you pain or other symptoms? Firstly, if you have symptoms, you should call your doctor or physical therapist for an evaluation and treatment rather than trying to exercise on your own. You may already have spinal stenosis without realizing it.

Then, once you’re cleared by your qualified, licensed health professional for exercise consider starting small and progressing slowly. Monitor your response to exercise in terms of pain, weakness, and nerve symptoms. If you notice any of these, stop, and do an easier workout next time. Notice I didn’t say stop forever. It’s important to exercise regularly; you just need to identify the level at which you can safely sustain this king of activity.

And if your stenosis makes walking painful you, might need to identify another form of aerobic exercise. Some common substitutions include Stationary cycling, swimming and deep water exercises using flotation devices.

Related: Try a Beginner's Water Exercise Routine


Spinal Stenosis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, NIH website. Jan 2013. Accessed July 2015.http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/spinal_stenosis/

Prevent Spinal Stenosis Tip 2 - Stretch to Increase Your Range of Motion

Stretch your hip abductors while sitting.
Stretch your hip abductors while sitting.

Stretching and Range of Motion May Help Prevent Spinal Stenosis

Along with pain and stiffness, a reduction in your range of motion is a common symptom of spinal stenosis. So one prevention strategy is to keep up with your flexibility training.

This will likely include stretching, but you can also do relaxation exercises, water exercise and holistic therapies as enhancements. The key is that flexibility training improves your mobility, which may well help stave off the pain and other symptoms normally associated with spinal stenosis. You can get started with my 5 Quick and Easy Back Release Moves.

One preventative measure you might consider is make a pre-emptive appointment with a physical therapist to get an evaluation plus stretching exercises that are tailored to you. She may offer you some movements that can relieve any early symptoms.


Physical Therapist's Guide to Spinal Stenosis. Move Forward Guide. Move Forward website. Accessed July 2015. http://www.moveforwardpt.com/symptomsconditionsdetail.aspx?cid=5e4daaa0-cb21-4eee-8484-e728617397aa#.Vav1qvlViko

Prevent Spinal Stenosis Tip 3 - Get Good Posture

Woman sitting at a desk with laptop.
Sitting at a desk can lead to tight quadriceps and low back pain. Science Photo Library/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Get Good Posture

Learning how to sit with good posture as well as perform chores and tasks (like lifting heavy things or reaching up high to get something) may help you avoid injury and wear and tear that could possibly lead to spinal stenosis.

Here are a few resources to get you started:

Prevent Spinal Stenosis Tip 4 - Manage Your Weight

Lowering your BMI may protect your discs.
Lowering your BMI may protect your discs. julynx

Prevent Spinal Stenosis with Weight Management

Attaining and maintaining a normal healthy weight for your height may go a long way toward keeping spinal stenosis from developing, or at least from bothering you.

Carrying extra body weight puts pressure on all the components of the spine, including the facet joints. It can also impede exercising with good form, which is a practice that develops overall strength, flexibility, back support, and the ability to get through the day minimal muscle fatigue. These factors may in the long run, help you avoid the development of spinal stenosis.

Related:  Obesity and Back Pain

Prevent Spinal Stenosis Tip 5 - Quit Smoking

Quit smoking for healthier discs.
Quit smoking for healthier discs. Wavebreakmedia

Quitting Smoking May Help Prevent Spinal Stenosis

It’s not news that smoking is associated with back pain.

Smoking might cause degenerative changes by constricting blood vessels that feed your spine. Not only that, but it can amplify pain perception.

And if you're planning a spinal fusion, your surgeon may possibly require you to quit before she is willing to operate. This is because smoking slows bone healing. Spinal fusions are 33% less likely to be successful in people who smoke, according to Ondra and Marzouk, in their article "Revision Strategies for Lumbar Pseudarthrosis" (published on the Medscape website).

For the full scoop check out Smoking and Back Pain.

Ondra, S., M.D., Marzouk, S., M.D. Revision Strategies for Lumbar Pseudarthrosis. Medscape website. Accessed June 2015. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/462180_2