Are you experiencing pain in your back with walking? Stiffness in your back in the morning that lasts for less than 30 minutes? Are you more comfortable leaning on a grocery/shopping cart? Are you getting symptoms like numbness, tingling or pain down either one of your legs?
Have you seen your doctor for back pain and been told you have Spinal Stenosis?
All of this can sound foreign and scary especially if you haven't had back pain before. What this article sets out to do is to give you comfort that there is a lot you can do to manage your symptoms and keep your quality of life. If you are not sure what is causing your back pain consult a Physiotherapist or Physician for help.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal Stenosis/Foramen stenosis is the narrowing (stenosis) of the opening (foramen) on either side of the spine where the nerve comes out that supply our sensation and muscle movement.
Reasons why Spinal Stenosis occurs:
Natural change in the spine over time
Loss in disc height between the vertebrae
Arthritis around the back joints (bulkier joint with some boney growths (osteophytes))
Most commonly we see spinal stenosis in the neck (cervical) and low back (lumbar).
Why do I feel pain, tingling or numbness in my legs or arms?
Often this can be related to the Spinal Stenosis where the nerve that innervates the affected arm or leg is irritated where it exits through the foramen at the neck or low back because it is being encroached on by the smaller nerve opening (foramen). There are also other causes like, Multiple Sclerosis, pinched nerve, nerve damage, tumour, Diabetes, etc. Make sure to check with a clinical professional if this is occurring.
Why does my back feel worse with walking?
Walking keeps the curve of your spine in an backward arched position which causes more closure of the foramen (the holes on either side of the spine where the nerves exit from).
Why do I feel better leaning on a shopping cart or counter, etc?
When you bend forward, you mechanically open the foramen in the spine taking pressure off the irritated structures. Although this helps, you can’t always walk leaning on things everywhere you go.
What can I do to help reduce my pain?
MOTION IS LOTION...keep moving.
YES, this is the answer for a lot of things. You may feel like you should listen to the pain and in some cases this is true (consult your Physiotherapist or Physician to know if this is the case) but often you just need to gradually get moving.
What can I do that is safe that will help TODAY?
You can start practicing seated forward bends. Do 5 in a row and complete them many times throughout the day. Practice this when you go for your next walk, if your symptoms increase, stop at the next park bench and bust out 5-10 seated bends as shown below. These should make your Spinal Stenosis symptoms feel BETTER (i.e. less back and/or leg pain), if they don’t then STOP and consult your Physician or Physiotherapist.
There are other things that you can do to help with increasing your tolerance for longer distance walking and other activities. If you have success with these forward bends, then you would likely benefit from seeing your local Physiotherapist to learn more tricks like this to help manage your symptoms and to keep you moving!