Excellent Spinal Stenosis Exercises to Try

Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal cord and the nerve roots are compressed due to narrowing of the spinal canal. Stenosis or narrowing causes pinching of the nerve structures, which leads to severe pain, weakness and numbness of the affected parts. Depending on the level of the spine that is narrowed, corresponding parts of the body from the neck, down to the arms and legs may be affected.

Physical therapists and rehabilitation experts recommend spinal stenosis exercises to improve a patient’s strength and to increase the range of motion and flexibility of the spine and body. Exercises for spinal stenosis help reduce your symptoms of pain, stiffness, numbness, or tingling.

Spinal Stenosis Exercises

1. Cardiovascular Exercises

Stenosis of the spine exercises include cardiovascular exercises to get the heart pumping, to burn calories, and to help you maintain a healthy weight. Spinal stenosis exercises involve low impact exercises that are done in slow motion. These include swimming, walking and using an elliptical trainer. The bending forward position used when riding a bicycle widens the spinal canal and temporarily reduces pressure on the spinal nerves.

2. Leg Grab

The leg grab exercise helps widen the spinal canal. This can be done when you wake up or go to bed. To do this, lie flat on your back with your feet on the floor. Lifting your legs toward your chest, place your hands around your knees and pull them towards your chest. Feel your lower back stretch and hold the position for 15-30 seconds. Release the stretch then repeat twice.

3. Hook-Lying March

To strengthen the back muscles, lie flat on your back with feet on the floor. Place your arms straight on the floor with palms faced down. Lift the right leg slowly, about three to four inches off the floor. Lower your leg, at the same time lifting your left leg. Do this marching movement for 30 seconds then rest for another 30 seconds. Repeat until you complete four sets.

4. Stretches

Stenosis of the spine exercises also include stretches for the low back muscles (low back extensors), which hold your spine in a backward bending position. Also called sciatica exercises, these include:

  • Back flexion: While lying on your back, gently pull your knees to the chest until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, and then slowly return to your starting position. Do four to six repetitions.
  • Go down on your hands and knees. Sit back on your heels with your chest down and arms outstretched. Hold for 30 seconds, and then slowly return to original position. Do four to six repetitions. Avoid bouncing on your heels.

5. Strengthening Exercises

  • While lying on your back, press the lower part of your back onto the floor. You can do this by tightening the muscles of the lower abdomen and pulling your belly button in and up. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Do eight to ten repetitions.
  • Do curl-ups by folding your arms across the chest and flattening your back on the floor by tightening the lower abs. Now raise your head and shoulders from the floor. Hold this position for 2-4 seconds, and return to original position. As your strength builds up, try to complete two sets with ten curls each.

6. Other Exercises That May Help

Other spinal stenosis exercises that may help relieve your symptoms and prevent worsening of the condition include:

  • Strengthening of the lower limbs to prevent falls
  • Lower back stabilizing exercises and pelvic tilts
  • Frequent changes of body position to avoid compression of the spine
  • Frequent breaks from work
  • Using proper techniques in lifting, pulling andpushing
  • Yoga exercises, which include balancing, stretching, relaxing and breathing exercises
  • Tai Chi, which involves slow, flowing body movements
  • Bicycle riding or stationary biking

Your physical therapist or doctor will create a specific program to suit your physical fitness, level of activity, and severity of pain. You can also join a gym and work with a trainer/therapist to find an effective way of learning stretching and core strengthening exercises.

Are All Exercises Good for Spinal Stenosis?

Not all exercises are beneficial in reducing spinal stenosis symptoms. Some activities place a lot of stress on your back. Repetitive high impact exercises, such as jogging, tennis, football and basketball can hurt your spinal canal because your spine absorbs the impact. Choose low-impact activities such as swimming and walking to strengthen your muscles.

How Will Exercises Help Spinal Stenosis?

  • Spinal stenosis exercises increase blood flow to your back, bring in oxygen and nutrients and wash away toxic metabolites.
  • Exercising strengthens muscles around your spine and helps take off the pressure from the back.
  • Exercising helps maintain flexibility and helps prevent tight muscles which can pull and torque your spine.
  • Exercising helps get rid of excess weight, which can worsen back and leg pains.
  • Staying active promotes mental and emotional health as well. Exercise increases blood flow and endorphin production, which improves your overall outlook and helps reduce physical symptoms.

Tips to Follow

A few tips to keep about exercises for spinal stenosis:

  • Exercise regularly: Plan to ride the bicycle every day and make it part of your routine. Choose an activity that is fun, enjoyable and rewarding, preferably one that can be done in any weather condition.
  • Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Your doctor may also recommend a physical therapist to help you learn ideal exercises that can become part of your daily routine.
  • Avoid exercising through pain or other symptoms. If pain is caused or worsened by activity, stop and consult your doctor about it.


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