Monday, May 7, 2012

I Have Spinal Stenosis, Now What!?

What causes spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the openings in the spine?  People can develop spinal stenosis due to traumatic injuries or congenital defects, but the most common cause is age-related degeneration.  If you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, some of the most effective conservative treatment methods available are chiropractic and stretching. In fact, depending on the cause of the narrowing within your spinal canal, stretching and exercise can do a great deal to help alleviate back or neck pain associated with spinal stenosis.  Of course, it’s important to always consult your chiropractor before beginning a new exercise or stretching regimen, especially if you suffer from the pain, tingling, numbness, and/or muscle weakness and spasms caused by spinal nerve compression.

The goal of any stretching and strengthening program is to strengthen the “core” muscles that support the torso while improving flexibility and reducing pressure in the spinal column. Here are some simple exercises you might want to try:

Knee to chest – Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Grasp one knee with both hands and pull it toward your chest as far as is comfortable. Repeat with the other knee, then both knees simultaneously.  This stretch can be very helpful when performed in the morning, before getting out of bed to start your day.

Plank - Lift up off your knees so that you are supported on your forearms and toes with a level back.  Almost like a modified push up position.  Keep your head in line with your body and spine in a neutral alignment, pull your navel in, bracing your abs tight.  Try to hold this position for as long as possible.

Side Plank - Lie on your right side, supporting your upper body on your right forearm, with your left arm at your left side. Lift your hips, keeping your body weight supported on the forearm and the side of the right foot.  Again, try to hold this position for as long as possible then switch sides and repeat.

Tips on Technique:
    - Keep breathing throughout the held contraction.  Don't hold your
       breath.
    - Don't let your body sag in the middle. Lock in a solid position.
    - Gradually increase the hold time, up to 60 to 120 seconds.
    - Focus on bracing your abs as you hold the position.
    - Increase difficulty by placing your feet and/or arms on unstable
       objects like an exercise ball.


“Superman” - Lie on your stomach on an exercise ball (or the floor).  Raise your right arm and left leg as far as you comfortably can (or about 5-6 in. if you’re laying on the ground) and hold for 5 to 10 seconds.  Repeat with opposite arm and leg.  These will help strengthen the muscles of the upper and lower back.

There is a chance that stretching and strengthening alone won’t be enough to manage severe spinal stenosis symptoms. However, exercise and stretching in conjunction with other conservative treatments – Chiropractic adjustments, proper body mechanics, and others – will frequently help reduce your back and neck pain.