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Are you one of the many people who suffer from spinal stenosis? Are you a candidate for decompression surgery, but have reservations about having the operation because of the many risks involved? If you are a person who suffers from this debilitating disease, take heart, there is hope and help with physical therapy.

What is spinal stenosis? In layman’s terms, it is the compression of the spinal cord due to degenerative conditions in the vertebrae which tend to shrink the bone structure that surrounds the spinal cord. For example, osteoarthritis. The nerves in the lower spine become pinched, and the lower extremities are greatly affected. This condition typically causes weakness and numbness in the legs, sciatica, and leg pain in general, which usually interferes with an individual’s daily activities and quality of life.

Surgery is an option that was already mentioned, but some patients feel that the risks outweigh the benefits. Some of the surgical risks include but are not limited to Infection, blood clots, nerve damage, vertebrae failing to fuse, and hardware fracture. In some cases, a second surgery is required if the first one was not successful. Therefore, some patients and even doctors opt for physical therapy as an alternative treatment; especially since the insurance company usually covers it. You may want to ask your doctor, friends, or a family member for a reputable physical therapist in your area. You may also want to research therapists online and read their patient reviews.

Typically, physical therapy includes a variety of exercises; from stretches, aerobic exercise, and strengthening exercises, as well as ice or heat therapy. You will want to avoid exercises that will jolt your spine, such as tennis or jogging.

  • You may not think stretching exercises are as significant as other kinds of exercises mentioned here, but they are. Stretching exercises help to elongate your spine, and they keep your joints and muscles flexible. The lumbar flexion is a great stretch, and it has variations to it as well. Depending on your comfort level, you can perform this stretch laying down, sitting, or standing. The hamstring stretch is also a good exercise to try.      This alone will ease some of the stress and pain in your back. Another great stretch is the knees to chest stretch. These stretches not only relieve tension and stress in your back but also strengthen its surrounding tissues, thus providing the extra support it needs.
  • Cardiovascular Exercises, such as walking, swimming, and biking will energize your circulatory system, therefore, providing your body with the oxygen all the cells are craving. The extra oxygen you take in will also help you combat fatigue as you perform your daily activities. An increased heart rate will also boost your metabolism which will help you burn calories and maintain a healthy weight. Riding a bike is a wonderful way to exercise for people who have spinal stenosis because they are in the seated position which takes pressure off the spine.
  • Strength Training Exercises will help you strengthen your stomach and lower back muscles. Some of these exercises include the posterior pelvic tilt (or bridge), curl-ups, and the hook-lying march. They are all targeted toward the core and the lower body. By performing these exercises, you will strengthen the muscles, joints, and ligaments that surround your spine, thus easing your pain, and adding flexibility. Depending on your comfort level, the physical therapist may recommend using an exercise ball for additional support.

Patients who are candidates for spinal surgery often choose to include physical therapy as part of their treatment instead of surgery. In many cases, patients have found that exercise enhances their overall quality of life and their daily routine is easier to manage. The key to success is that you maintain your exercise routine on a regular basis at home.