What is Spinal Stenosis?

You’ve probably heard of medical issues such as arthritis or a herniated disc in the spine. Spinal stenosis, however, although a relatively common medical condition, is an illness that people may not necessarily be familiar with.

With nearly 20 years of services in NEPA, we at Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation believe an essential part of providing high-quality physical therapy for back pain is helping patients understand their conditions. Below, we’ll explain what spinal stenosis is, the symptoms associated with experiencing stenosis in the lumbar (lower) back region, as well as review how physical therapy can help with this painful and debilitating spinal condition.

Understanding the Causes of Spinal Stenosis

Answering the question, “Why do I have back pain?” is never simple. Many different issues may be to blame. In the human body, the spinal cord is housed within a protective capsule known as the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal begins to narrow, which puts pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerves.

Most cases of spinal stenosis occur in older people (age 50 and above). However, spinal stenosis can be congenital (a defect present at birth). It may arise from a bone tumor putting pressure on the spinal canal, or it can result from scoliosis (spinal curvature). Degenerative conditions such as osteo or rheumatoid arthritis often contribute to the likelihood of developing stenosis somewhere along the spine.

Additionally, as a person ages, tissues around the spinal canal begin to thicken, and nearby bones may start to thicken as well, all of which can encroach upon the spinal canal. This gradual encroachment upon the spinal canal causes it to narrow, which in turn can put pressure on the spinal cord.

Common Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Although spinal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spinal canal, one of the most common areas affected by this condition is the lower back, affecting the lumbar vertebrae L1-L5. When a person has spinal stenosis in the lower part of their spinal canal, they will likely have low back pain, most noticeable during prolonged periods of walking or when standing. The pain may be relieved by sitting, especially in a slouched position (lumbar flexion).

Some patients will notice an increase in their sciatica pain as spinal stenosis irritates their sciatic nerve. Other symptoms include numbness, tingling, or burning down one or both legs or in the buttocks region. Initially, symptoms may come and go as pressure on the spinal cord is intermittent.

Over time, as degenerative material along with tissue and bone encroaches even further into the spinal canal, the pressure on the spinal cord becomes constant, and a person may begin to experience weakness in one or both legs. As a person becomes less and less mobile, they will have a decreased range of motion in the lower back and may have great difficulty standing up straight. Instead, they will remain more and more in a slouched position, even upon standing and walking.

Physical Therapy Treatment for Spinal Stenosis

If a person receives a diagnosis of spinal stenosis from their physician, their doctor may prescribe physical therapy treatment. During the initial phases of PT treatment, the focus will be on relieving pain and increasing the range of motion through stretching exercises. The physical therapist will likely perform spinal manipulation techniques designed to adjust the spine and surrounding bones and tissues, thus relieving pressure on pinched nerves.

As a patient improves, a physical therapist will introduce exercises designed to strengthen important muscles in the lower back and hip area.  These muscles are called paraspinal and comprise the multifidus, quadratus lumborum, and erector spinae. All work together to stabilize and facilitate movement within the lumbopelvic region. As a patient continues to strengthen these muscles and others, their range of motion will improve. They become stronger, and their posture, whether sitting, walking, or standing, will improve as well. 

Get Spinal Stenosis Treatment in NEPA

If you or someone you know has recently received a diagnosis of spinal stenosis, let us help. With locations in Pittston, Kingston, Scranton, Nanticoke, and Carbondale, Cawley PT is the premier physical therapist in NEPA. Every last one of our 11,000+ satisfied patients has enjoyed a personalized, one-on-one treatment plan designed specifically to meet their needs.

At Cawley PT, you’re not just a patient. You’re family.

Contact us today at 570-208-2787 or email us at cawleyptfrank@gmail.com.