4 Things to STOP Doing if You Have Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

What to Avoid if You Have Spinal Stenosis

Photo of an overweight man with back pain.
If you have spinal stenosis, there are some things you should avoid doing. Universal Images Group/Getty Images

If you have lumbar spinal stenosis, you may benefit from physical therapy to help decrease your back pain and leg symptoms and improve your ability to walk.  Your physical therapist can teach you an exercise program to improve your spinal range of motion (ROM) and strength.  He or she can also show you how to adjust your posture to help keep you symptoms away.

Whenever you have a back problem, there are things you should do and certain things you should stop doing to manage your condition.

 Lumbar spinal stenosis is a special condition that comes with its own rules to follow, including things that you should do and things you should avoid to maximize your chances of successful management.

Here is a list of things you should stop doing if you have lumbar spinal stenosis.  If you have spinal stenosis, check in with your doctor and visit your physical therapist to learn the things you can do to manage your condition.

  1. Stop waiting for symptoms to go away.  Lumbar spinal stenosis is a progressive condition that typically worsens if you do nothing.  If you are diagnosed with spinal stenosis, engaging in an exercise program to help improve your mobility and decrease your back and leg pain is a must.
    Working to improve your strength and ROM can help you walk better with less pain.  Taking an active role in your spinal stenosis care is one of the best ways to manage your condition.
  2. Stop treating only the inflammation.  Spinal stenosis is caused by a narrowing of your spinal canal, and this narrowing can irritate the nerves that travel down your legs.  Symptoms are typically worse with walking and better with sitting down or bending forward.  When your nerves become irritated, they may be inflamed, and taking anti-inflammatory medication can temporarily improve your condition. Relying solely on medication for spinal stenosis is a no-no.
    To effectively treat your condition, you must change the biomechanics of your spine and improve the way your spine moves. This can be accomplished through exercise and postural correction.
  1. Stop doing only flexion exercises. Historically, people with spinal stenosis were prescribed only flexion exercises that bend your spine forward.  Why?  Because this position causes an increase in your spinal canal diameter, and this is thought to take pressure off spinal nerves.
    But you may also benefit from bending backwards with an exercise called sustained standing lumbar extension.  This exercise can gently press against your spinal discs, moving them away from your spinal canal and nerves to give them more room.  Check in with your PT to try spinal extension exercises for your stenosis to see if they are right for you.  
  1. Stop thinking about surgery.  When you were first diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, your doctor may have told you many different options to treat your condition.  Spinal surgery called a lumbar laminectomy may be helpful for people with spinal stenosis.  But recent studies indicate the physical therapy can have a similar long-term outcome when compared to surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis.  The risks associated with spinal surgery are greater when compared to the risks associated with participating in an active physical therapy program.
    Stop worrying about surgery, and start engaging in an active program to treat your spinal stenosis.  If your symptoms persist or worsen, then consider other invasive treatment options like injections or surgery.

If you have been diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, stop worrying, start exercising and check in with your doctor and physical therapist.  Your PT can teach you what to do, and what to stop doing, to effectively manage your lumbar spinal stenosis.

Sources:  Delitto, A. etal. Surgery versus nonsurgical treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 162(7) April, 2015. 465-73.

McKenzie, R., & May, S. (2003). The lumbar spine mechanical diagnosis and therapy. (2nd ed., Vol. One). Waikanae: Spinal Publications New Zealand.

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