There’s an old joke that says, “I’ve got one nerve left, and you’re getting on it!” While this saying may cause a smile, it’s also an apt description for spinal stenosis, a painful condition that occurs when the space inside the spinal canal narrows. This puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves traveling through the spine, causing pain, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness over time.
Spinal stenosis can happen either in the neck or the lower back. Spinal compression in the neck is called cervical stenosis, and spinal compression in the back is called lumbar stenosis, which is the most common form of the disease.
The causes of spinal stenosis, which mostly occurs in people over the age of 50, include:
- Overgrowth of bone, such as bone spurs that grow into the spinal canal.
- Herniated disks
- Thickened ligaments that bulge into the spinal canal
- Tumors resulting in spinal stenosis are uncommon but can be identified with an MRI or CT.
- Spinal injuries
Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis
You may have no symptoms of spinal stenosis, or they may start slowly and worsen over time. According to Harvard Health and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, signs include:
- Neck or back pain
- Numbness, weakness, cramping, or pain in your arms or legs
- Pain in the groin, buttocks, and upper thigh that doesn’t travel down the leg
- Pain with standing or walking that eases when you sit or squat
- Pain that worsens when you lean back and lessens when you lean forward
- Problems with your feet
Lumbar stenosis is especially serious, and you should call your doctor if you:
- Lose control of your bowel or bladder.
- Encounter problems having sex.
- Have pain, weakness, or loss of feeling in one or both of your legs.
How to Treat Spinal Stenosis
Understanding that while there is no reversal from spinal stenosis, you can get relief from symptoms by understanding the activities that cause pain, and then manage pain using techniques like heat/icing, small progressions of exercises, medications, a brace for your lower back, and sometimes back surgery if indicated by your spine surgeon. The treatment you choose depends on how much spinal stenosis impacts your quality of life.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, “Exercise is very important in the treatment of this disease. Exercising regularly to keep muscles strong and improve flexibility boosts strength, reduces pain, and improves general well-being.”
“If you haven’t exercised in some time, start with knowing your limits. While other back conditions cause pain with bending and lifting, spinal Stenosis limits the time you can stand and walk,” says Palak Shah, PT. “Once you know your limits, try to pace your activities and learn how to manage your pain while staying active. Once you start physical therapy and learn exercises to strengthen your muscles, you should gradually see some improvement in your activity tolerance. If your pain is very severe, you may want to try aquatic or pool exercises; the water’s buoyancy helps you move more easily and get full range of motion without excessive impact on your spine.”
Spinal Stenosis and Physical Therapy
Your physical therapist can prescribe the right exercises to help alleviate the symptoms of spinal stenosis and strengthen your muscles. Other physical therapy techniques may include stretching, stabilization, strengthening exercises, activity and pain education, and manual treatment.
If you suffer from spinal stenosis, consider on-demand physical therapy. You’ll receive treatment at a place that’s most convenient for you, which means you’re more likely to complete your course of care. You get one-on-one time with a board-certified PT who’s only focused on your care and who will tailor a treatment plan based on your actual environment. You’ll find it easier to adhere to your exercise program and can start feeling better, faster. And that’s a real reason to smile.
Contact Luna on-demand physical therapy today.
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