11 Best Exercises for Spinal Stenosis and Exercises to Avoid

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Best Exercises for Spinal Stenosis

Credit: iStock/Wavebreakmedia

Spinal stenosis is a devastating health condition that leaves the patient vulnerable to extreme pain on a daily basis. As the spinal canal narrows, the added pressure on the central nervous system causes shooting pain to travel from the back down through the legs.

While surgery and other treatment plans can relieve the pressure, there are also low-impact exercises for spinal stenosis that may help deal with the motor function impairment due to pain. Stretching and strengthening the core muscles can release tension and improve range of motion as well as alleviate the pain. We will cover spinal stenosis exercises that can be used in conjunction with a treatment plan.

As with any condition that causes severe pain, spinal stenosis may create an environment where the patient does not want to be physically active in fear of the pain. This can have the exact opposite effect, as not working the affected muscles can worsen the condition, causing the pain to intensify and last longer. Any exercise for spinal stenosis should be low-impact while promoting flexibility as it strengthens the muscle.

The excruciating pain is often treated with medication, and while some cases require some form of prescribed medication, exercising the affected areas of the body can also help alleviate pain. This is accomplished by relieving the compression or pressure put on the nerves by an underlying condition or trauma.

Lifestyle Changes for Spinal Stenosis Relief

With the treatment of spinal stenosis, or any condition concerning the spine, it is crucial to take safety measures when executing targeted exercises. If improper techniques are followed, the damage or injury to the spine can be made worse. Several spinal stenosis exercises are recommended to add to your daily activities.

1. Yoga

Targets the neck and back muscles for strengthening and stretching while performing deep breaths.

2. Pilates

Offers core strengthening with light movements.

3. Light Aerobic

Helps to alleviate stress while strengthening muscles with walking, cycling, and water workouts.

4. Physical Therapy

Targets affected muscles as pain and inflammation are treated.

5. Walking

Whether performed outside or on a treadmill, walking is one of the best low-impact exercises for spinal stenosis.

6. Swimming

Strengthens the back and core muscles without adding extra weight or pressure.

Spinal Stenosis Exercises to Avoid

As with any exercise program, you should be directed by a trained professional when performing workouts with the spinal stenosis condition. To avoid further damage to the spinal canal, there are certain exercises to refrain from.

1. Heavy Lifting

Any movement or exercise that requires added weight or pressure on your back should be avoided. This includes heavy weightlifting exercises at a gym and dealing with heavy boxes and furniture at home.

2. Twisting and Bending

Moving your body in ways that may not come naturally can damage your spine. This is seen with rotating or twisting your body in movements such as golf swings.

3. High-Impact Workouts

High-impact exercises such as running can place extra weight onto the leg and back muscles and nerves affected by spinal stenosis.

4. Long Walks

Excess time working the back and leg muscles may cause more pain from the extra pressure.

Spinal Stenosis Exercises

To get the best out of your daily routine, incorporate the following exercises. The muscles need to continuously be stretched and strengthened. Damage and injury to the spine commonly occurs with poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle. Regular exercises cannot affect the core muscles deep within the body. These are the muscles that connect the central core as they support the spine.

The following spinal stenosis exercises target the pain, inflammation, and stress that can come with dealing with the spinal stenosis condition. They will also help to repair injured muscles and ligaments. For best results, combine stretches and exercises with low-impact and yoga workouts.

1. Back Flexion

This exercise will increase the open spacing between the vertebrae to alleviate pain.

Lying on your back on the floor, bend knees with feet placed flat on the floor. Inhale and bring your knees to your chest and hold them with your arms as you exhale. Hold for 30 seconds and return to starting position. Repeat four to six times. If you experience pain while doing back flexion initially, it can be done while lying on your side, as in the fetal position.

2. Child’s Pose

Position yourself on all fours with hands placed in line with the shoulders and knees with the hips. With head down and facing the floor, inhale and lower hips toward the heels on the exhale. Allow the chest to drop toward the floor and rest on thighs.

Your arms should be extended in front of you, with hands still placed on the floor. Hold for five deep breaths and return to starting position. Repeat throughout the day for pain relief. You can use a pillow behind the knees or an exercise block between the ankles.

3. Cat/Cow

To get the best results from any of the following positions, maintain controlled breathing and movement in slow but smooth motions.

In a standing position, place feet at a stance wider than the hips, bend the knees, and have hands resting on upper legs. As you inhale, slowly thrust your butt outward as your chest drops between your arms and you look upward. On the exhale, drop the tailbone down, push on the hands, and arch the back. Repeat five times daily.

In a sitting position, stretch the body up and back on inhale with hands placed on knees. Your spine should be curved as your chest moves between the arms. As you exhale, push hands on legs as you arch the back. Repeat five times daily.

If you wish to perform this exercise on all fours, knees should be under the hips and hands under the shoulders. On the inhale, drop the belly toward floor as the chest opens forward and head up. Curve the tailbone down and forward on the exhale to arch back. Repeat five times daily.

4. Abdominal Work

Lying on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on floor, inhale. As you exhale, push the navel toward the floor, contracting the abdominal muscles. Hold this position and your breath for 10 seconds. Repeat five to 10 times.

5. Curl-Ups

As opposed to regular sit-ups, curl-ups target the lower abdominal muscles without the extra pressure on the lower back.

Lying on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, cross arms on chest and inhale. As you exhale, raise the head and shoulders and hold position for three seconds. Inhale and lower the head and shoulders back to floor. Build up resistance to perform two to four sets 10 times.

6. Tiger Pose

A basic yoga move, this pose helps improve balance, flexibility, and strength, which can be compromised with spinal stenosis.

Position yourself on all fours on the floor with knees under the hips and wrists under the shoulders. Balance weight on base of index finger with fingers spread apart. As you inhale, stretch the right leg behind you and the left arm out-front. On the exhale, round the back as you bring the knee toward the forehead. Inhale as you return to starting position. Repeat five to seven times on each side.

7. Lower Back Stretch

Triangle pose is a helpful exercise for all back issues, as it targets the core muscles as well as the hamstrings.

Stand tall with feet placed firmly on floor. Move the right foot back a few steps with the front heel in line with the arch of the back foot. As you inhale, raise the arms parallel to the floor. On the exhale, reach forward and then lower the left arm down toward the floor. Hold position as you take five to seven breaths. Repeat on other side.

8. Front/Side Plank

Front and side planks see you on all fours on the floor with knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. If you are suffering from weakened wrist muscles, use your elbows to support you. Ensure your back is always straight and the core is tightened. Straighten legs one at a time with toes tucked under feet. Hold for 30 seconds, working up to three minutes. Turn the body with weight on the right hand and outer side of the foot. Your left foot should be placed on the right foot or floor. Raise left arm to reach to the ceiling. Hold for three to five breaths and repeat on other side.

9. Chin Tucks

Spinal stenosis can affect three main sections of the spine. With cervical spinal stenosis, it is important to have the neck muscles flexed and stretched. Chin tucks target the scalene muscles that pass from the skull base to the collarbone, running along the neck.

You can choose whether to sit or stand with this exercise. Tip the chin toward the chest before pulling the head backward without moving the chin. Hold for five seconds.

10. Knees to Chest

Lying on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, slowly bring one knee to the chest and clasp hands around the knee. Hold for three seconds and return the foot to floor. Repeat with the other knee.

11. Pelvic Tilts

Lying on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, place hands on the stomach or extend arms to the side. Your hips and pelvis should be tilted toward the chest as you press your navel to the floor.

Spinal stenosis is a serious, life-long condition that can be managed with a professional treatment plan. Exercises for spinal stenosis can help stretch and strengthen affected ligaments, muscle tissues, and bones. These specialized exercises can also help alleviate pressure on the central nervous system, which controls movement and pain levels. Each exercise must be done with controlled breathing and movements to get the best results while protecting the body from further trauma.

Related Articles:

Spinal Stenosis Treatment and Effective Prevention Tips

Cervical Stenosis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Synovial Cyst: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Sources:
“15 Spinal Stenosis Exercises You Can Do Anywhere,” Pain Doctor; https://paindoctor.com/spinal-stenosis-exercises/, last accessed July 17, 2017.
“3 exercises for spinal stenosis,” Laser Spine Institute; https://www.laserspineinstitute.com/articles/spinal_stenosis/three-exercises-for-spinal-stenosis/803/, last accessed July 17, 2017.
“Spinal stenosis exercises for pain relief,” Laser Spine Institute; https://www.laserspineinstitute.com/back_problems/spinal_stenosis/exercises/, last accessed July 17, 2017.
Highsmith, J., “Exercises for Spinal Stenosis,” Spine Universe; https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/spinal-stenosis/exercises-spinal-stenosis, last accessed July 17, 2017.
“Exercises to avoid with spinal stenosis,” Laser Spine Institute; https://www.laserspineinstitute.com/back_problems/spinal_stenosis/exercises-to-avoid-with-spinal-stenosis/, last accessed July 17, 2017.

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