Unfortunately, chronic back pain is a sad fact of life for many adults. According to The US Department of Health and Human Services, 8 out of 10 people will experience back pain during their lifetime. Back pain has a variety of causes. It’s often frustrating trying to find the exact one behind your miserable aches and pains.

While some back issues are relatively mild and treatable such as strains and pulled muscles, other issues may be far more severe. Lumbar spinal stenosis is one of the biggest culprits behind lower back pain. This condition is also commonly responsible for the hot, shooting pain associated with sciatica. Although painful, spinal stenosis is a treatable condition. With the proper diagnosis and care, you can effectively manage and even eliminate your lower back pain.

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis comes in two basic forms: congenital and degenerative. Those with congenital spinal stenosis are born with an unusually narrow spinal column. This narrowing creates a “pinching” effect on the spine and other nerves, producing pain, weakness, numbness, and cramping. Although spinal stenosis may also affect the neck (“cervical” region), lumbar stenosis is chiefly responsible for many cases of lower back pain and sciatica.

Unlike congenital spinal stenosis, degenerative stenosis is far more common. This form also places painful pressure on the nerves, but the damage occurs gradually over time, with symptoms increasing with age. As people age, calcium and salt deposits form on the vertebrae, shrinking the spine’s passageway. Bone spurs, damaged vertebrae discs, and various forms of arthritis also contribute to spinal pressure.

What are the Symptoms?

Spinal stenosis symptoms vary according to the type and level of damage present. Early cases may have very little pain or issues. However, many individuals with lumbar spinal stenosis find that their symptoms increase with age. Some common issues to look for include:

  • Pain, numbness, or “tingling” in the legs and lower back
  • General weakness and difficulty moving
  • Pain that worsens when standing or walking, but is relieved with sitting
  • Difficulty and increased pain when sleeping, especially when lying flat on your stomach or back. (Some relief is present by lying on your side)
  • Digestive or reproductive issues (rare cases)

What are the Risk Factors?

Age is by far the greatest risk factor. The majority of cases occur in individuals 50 years or older. Other common factors include:

  • Family history of the disease (especially in a mother or father)
  • Skeletal birth defects
  • Obesity
  • Traumatic back injury (vehicle accidents, falls, etc.)
  • Poor mobility or lack of exercise
  • Any type of arthritis or osteoporosis

Diagnosis

Spinal stenosis is most commonly diagnosed with x-rays, CT scans, and MRI’s. These tests reveal the level of damage within your back and allow your doctor or physical therapist to design an effective treatment plan.

Although simply sharing your symptoms may be enough for a tentative diagnosis, these tests are still very important to show how far the stenosis has progressed and what treatment option is best for you.

Noninvasive Treatments and Exercises

After receiving a spinal stenosis diagnosis, many people instantly fear the possibility of costly surgery or painful injections. This fear often prompts many to ignore their pain or try and “push” themselves through it. However, avoiding treatment does not cure your back pain. If anything, it makes matters far worse.

Fortunately, many doctors and patients are gravitating away from back surgery and other traditional options. Newer and less invasive treatments such as stretching, decompression, physical therapy, and other holistic practices are gaining increasing popularity and success. Before resigning yourself to surgery, consider these simple and less painful alternatives.

Personal Treatment

Some of the most effective and relieving treatments start in your own home. Whether you currently have spinal stenosis or you’re working to avoid a future diagnosis, start these safe and effective at-home exercises. With consistency, these gentle exercises allow you to safely stretch your spine and remove some of the pressure. Paired with daily walks or other gentle exercise routines, these top 3 stretches safeguard the spine and help reduce future damage.

Using an exercise mat, lie flat on your back with your legs slightly bent. Using both hands, slowly and gently bend one knee upwards until it rests on your chest. Keep your shoulders and chest relaxed. Hold the stretch for several seconds and focus on your breathing to relax your lower back. Always move slowly and watch for pain. Never force your body through the stretch if your body is signaling you to stop!

This stretch is very similar to the Single Knee-to-Chest. However, instead of stretching one knee, you are simultaneously stretching both. In the same flat position, angle your knees slightly upright. Hug them with both hands and slowly bring them to your chest. Hold and breathe for several seconds before releasing.

This final stretch is also performed in a lying-down position. Bend your knees slightly, but keep both feet flat on the ground. Rest your hands palm-down with your elbows straight at your side. Slowly, begin tilting your hips to one side with your knees pointing outward. Next, tilt your hips in the opposite direction in a slow sweeping motion. Repeat several times, but stop immediately if you notice any sharp lower-back pain.

Although lumbar spinal stenosis can cause a variety of back pain and sciatica issues, this condition can be safely managed to reduce pain and complications. Even with consistent at-home exercise and stretching, it’s still wise to consult a trusted physical therapist for their professional opinion and guidance. For additional questions and treatment options, consider researching this condition through trusted resources and professional reading material. Although back pain is a bothersome and even debilitating medical condition, relief is still within your reach.

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