Lumbar spinal stenosis affects more than 200,000 adults in the United States, and is the most common reason for spinal surgery in individuals over the age of 65.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with lumbar stenosis, you may be looking for ways to treat your symptoms. In this article we’ll discuss some of the most effective ways to relieve your symptoms from the comfort of your own home.
What is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?
Lumbar spinal stenosis refers to spinal canal narrowing in the lumbar spine (low back), that typically affects the lower three lumbar levels, resulting in reduced space for the neural (Nerves) and vascular elements.
Symptoms of Lumbar Stenosis
Lumbar spinal stenosis occurs gradually overtime, and symptoms usually appear when the changes to the spinal canal begin to impinge the spinal cord and/or nerve roots. Symptoms may come and go, and some people with lumbar spinal stenosis have no symptoms at all.
Some specific symptoms you can feel:
– Pain, numbness, weakness or cramping in the buttocks and/or lower extremities.
– Leg Pain from walking a certain distance
– Pain when standing
– Weakness of the foot (“foot drop”).
– Lower back pain.
– Stiffness in the thighs and legs.
– Decreased tolerance for physical activity.
– Loss of bowel and/or bowel control (in severe cases).
Often, symptoms are worsened with walking, standing, or extension of the lumbar spine (leaning back), and relieved by sitting, lying down, or flexion of the lumbar spine (bending forward).
Causes of Lumbar Stenosis
Usually, lumbar spinal stenosis is caused by changes that occur within the spine that happen during the normal aging process. Degenerative spinal changes are found in up to 95% of individuals over the age of 50.
Common degenerative changes that can occur leading to lumbar spinal stenosis include:
– Ligament thickening.
– Development of bony spurs.
– Breakdown of intervertebral disc and joints.
These degenerative changes can also happen if you suffer from certain conditions, including:
– Bone disease (i.e. ankylosing spondylitis and Paget’s disease).
Further, lumbar spinal stenosis can occur if you suffer from other conditions, including:
– An inherited abnormally narrow spinal canal.
– Spondylosis (one vertebra sliding forward or backward over the vertebra below).
– Spinal fracture.
– Spinal tumor.
– Previous spinal surgery.
– Fibrosis (excess tissue, similar to scar tissue).
How to Treat Lumbar Stenosis From Home
The goals of treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis include:
– Decrease pain, numbness, and weakness.
– Improve mobility.
– Increase the distance one is able to walk & Stand
– Improve quality of life.
There are various treatments you can try from home to improve your condition including exercise, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, and lifestyle changes. We’ll discuss 5 of the best ways to treat your symptoms from home below.
5 Ways to Treat Lumbar Stenosis from Home:
1. Exercises & Stretches
How it helps: Exercise helps improve lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms in a variety of ways, including:
– Increases blood flow to the lower back, which encourages healing.
– Strengthens the muscles of the core, lower back – this helps to relieve pressure on the structures of the back.
– Maintains flexibility, which helps to prevent muscle tightness that can worsen symptoms.
– Helps to maintain a healthy weight.
This study found that Core stability exercises in particular were effective for people suffering from stenosis – as it increased their ability to walk for longer periods of time.
4 Exercises For Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
#1: Child’s Pose
– Begin by positioning yourself on the floor on your hands and knees with your knees slightly wider than your hips.
– Turn your toes inwards to touch and push your hips backwards while bending your knees.
– Once you’re in a comfortable position, straighten your arms forward and allow your head to fall forwards into a relaxed position.
– Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds.
– Slowly return to the starting position.
– Aim for 3 repetitions.
#2: Double Knee to Chest
– Begin by lying on your back on a mat with your knees bent and feet placed flat on the floor.-
– Position your right hand behind your right knee and slowly pull your right knee in towards your chest and then – Bring your left knee in towards your chest
– Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds.
– Relax and slowly lower one leg at a time to the starting position.
– Aim for 3 repetitions of this stretch
#3: Pelvic Tilt/Drawing In
– Begin by lying on your back with your feet positioned flat on the floor.
– Inhale and then Exhale while you draw in your abdominal muscles and push your belly button towards the floor as your try to – flatten your lower back.
– Hold this position for 5 seconds.
– Aim for 10 repetitions of this exercise.
#4: Plank – To Strengthen Core/Abs
– Begin lying on your stomach with your forearms against the mat.
– Engage your core, tuck your tailbone in (Posterior pelvic tilt) and lift your body so that you are resting on your forearms and toes.
– Start with 10 seconds holds, and work up to 30 Seconds, 2-3 Sets.
– Aim for 2 to 5 repetitions of this exercise.
– When you’re ready, increase the intensity by increasing the time you hold the plank in 10 second increments.
** Ensure to keep your back straight throughout the entire exercise.
More Treatments Below…
2. Ice & Heat Therapy
How it helps: Icing the lower back helps to numb the area, which provides temporary pain relief. While heating the lower back helps to relax tightened muscles, which helps to relieve pain. Additionally, heating the area helps to promote blood flow to the area and encourages healing.
How to do this: Start by applying an ice pack to the lower back for 15 to 20 minutes at a time at the first sign of symptoms.
After the first 48-72 hours, apply moist heat to the lower back for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Related: Ice VS Heat For Back Pain
3. Over-the-counter Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Medications (NSAID’s)
How it helps: Inflammation commonly occurs in lumbar spinal stenosis, therefore, NSAID’s help by reducing inflammation and associated pain.
How to do it: Take according to manufacturer recommendations.
4. Correct Your Posture
How it helps: When you use correct posture, symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis are reduced because there is less pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.
How to do it:
– Ensure that your feet are shoulder-width apart, with your knees slightly bent, and your weight distributed evenly over both of your feet.
– Make sure that your head is positioned over your neck and not protruding forwards, with your shoulders back.
– Sit with your back straight and shoulders back with your buttocks against the back of your chair.
– Your body weight should be evenly distributed over both hips, with your knees at a right angle, and feet positioned flat on the floor.
– Ensure that the three curves of your back (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar) are present (a small rolled up towel or pillow can help to maintain the natural curves).
Related: Proper sitting posture at a desk
5. Modify Activities/Posture When Needed
How it helps: When you experience too much pain because of certain positions you may need to modify your posture to alleviate the pain symptoms.
How to do it: Specifically for Lumbar stenosis having the spine slightly forward can help alleviate the pain symptoms. Modify your daily activities so that your spine is slightly forward flexed – For example, using a walker when walking and leaning on a shopping cart when shopping.
The good news is that symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis tend come and go, and often times gradually improve with conservative treatment options. Therefore, surgery is often not utilized unless the symptoms persist and interfere with daily life despite trials conservative treatment interventions.
Licensed chiropractor, DC (Owner of Forme Clinic, Stoney Creek, ON, L8G 1B9)
Dr. Shaina McQuilkie graduated from Brock University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Kinesiology (Honours). She then attended D’Youville College, in Buffalo, New York and obtained her Doctorate of Chiropractic Degree in 2008. After graduating, Dr. McQuilkie practiced in a multi-disciplinary healthcare facility based in Hamilton, Ontario gaining experience treating a variety of musculoskeletal injuries.