Should You Exercise When You Have Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?



Did you know that there are more than 200,000 cases of spinal stenosis each year? A great majority of those cases will be lumbar spinal stenosis, which is attributed to the narrowing of spaces in the lower back. In fact, 75% of all cases of spinal stenosis will occur here. Symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis could include a feeling of numbness or tingling in the legs, falling more often, or pain when walking. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should speak with a neurosurgeon like J Kevin Kaufman, M.D. to rule out any other life-threatening conditions and determine a treatment plan that best fits your individual needs.

Exercising with Lumbar Spinal Stenosis


If your doctor gives you the okay, you should maintain an exercise schedule to help manage the spinal condition. Lumbar spinal stenosis is typically a chronic degenerative disorder. There may be times when your symptoms improve and other times when they are exacerbated. Although it might seem counterintuitive if you have pain or stiffness, exercise might help you manage your symptoms. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the lower back. It also strengthens muscles around the affected area, so less pressure is put on the lumbar spine itself.  Finally, there are universal benefits of exercise, like weight management and stress relief, which could help ease the pain as well.


What Kind of Exercises Should You Be Doing?

Obviously, full-contact football is out as are any activities that put too much stress on the spine. Instead, the best exercises will be lower impact ones that minimize risk but still provide a high level of activity. Walking is one exercise that should be considered. You can easily do it on your lunch break or after work, and you can always bring a friend. Another good option is swimming as it supports your weight and minimizes pressure on the spine. Finally stretching exercises and tai chi might be good options to relieve pain as well.


However, before you get started, always remember to consult your doctor and spine surgeon before beginning an exercise program. They may be able to offer you additional recommendations and consultation about exercising with lumbar spinal stenosis. And if you begin to experience significant levels of pain or notice new pain, stop what you’re doing and speak to your doctor to avoid further injury.


Could Better Sleep Mean Less Aches and Back Pain?

There’s no question that adequate sleep is crucial to long-term health. Chronic sleeplessness doubles the risk of mortality from any condition. It can cause an individual to gain weight, increase the likelihood of depression, dull one’s memory, and even lead to poor decision-making. Sleep is an essential part of life as it helps clear metabolic waste products, restores the immune system, and processes memories. Those who get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a night are the ones most likely to enjoy overall well-being when all other risk factors like obesity and smoking are removed.

What Is the Link between Poor Sleep and Back Pain?

Back pain and poor sleep have a rather strong relationship. If someone is experiencing back pain or some other form of pain in the body, it can be expected that he or she will have much more difficulty falling asleep. In addition to that, a lack of sleep mitigates key restorative functions that can increase the likelihood of pain. One study from researchers at Keele University showed that non-refreshing sleep (sleep where you wake up still tired) was the biggest indicator of widespread pain. Participants in the study who reported poor sleeping tendencies had the greatest likelihood of pain development in the back and other parts of the body.

What Can Patients Do to Improve Their Sleep?

Because sleep is so crucial to reduce the risk of chronic conditions and widespread pain, everyone must pay special attention to how they approach sleep. First and foremost, this means establishing a good sleep environment. An optimal sleep setting will feature slightly cooler temperatures and little to no light or sound. Secondly, individuals should develop an appropriate sleep routine to signal to the body that it is time to go to bed. Finally, poor sleep behavior should be mended as quickly as possible. Bad sleep habits include watching television in bed, performing stressful activities late at night or eating right before bed.

If one does find that back pain is causing sleep deprivation, a visit to a spine specialist like James K Kaufman MD is necessary to rule out underlying conditions and determine the best course of treatment. A spine specialist can offer a number of treatment options, including medical intervention or lifestyle changes like improving one’s sleep. Whatever the cause for the back pain, a spine specialist will likely recommend optimizing sleep to reduce the likelihood of pain or aggravating an ongoing condition.

What is Stenosis?

There are several types of spinal stenosis, Lumbar Spinal Stenosis and Cervical Spinal Stenosis are just two of them.  Lumbar stenosis occurs when the spinal nerve roots are compressed in the lower back.  The effects of this are weakness or numbness in the lower back, bottom and legs.  Cervical spinal stenosis is compression of the spinal cord.  When this happens the symptoms can be extremely serious.  A few of them are major body weakness, paralysis and severe pain.  Spinal stenosis begins occurring in people who are 50 or older because it is connected to the degeneration of the spine.  As people 50 and older continue to age this degeneration continues to happen and can intensify the pain.


There are a lot of symptoms associated with spinal stenosis and it will depend to a degree which one you’re suffering from for what type of symptoms you’ll experience.  Lower back pain, leg numbness & tingling, walking limitations are the three most common symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis.   When a person with spinal stenosis walks, the longer they walk the more pain they will feel.  A way to reduce this pain is by stretching forward or sitting to open the spinal canal and relieve the leg pain.


James K KaufSpinal Surgery Shutterstockman MD has talked about stenosis in length during his research and mentions there are two diagnostic imaging studies for patients with stenosis.  They include an MRI scan or a CT scan with myelogram.  These two scans display the compression of the spine and allow doctors to see which nerves are being compressed.  Some forms of stenosis, such as cervical foraminal stenosis, can be pinpointed by other methods.  One method is injecting the suspected nerve with a couple drops of local anesthetic and then observing whether there is a remission of the symptoms.  If there is then the patient can decide if they want to conduct surgery there.


There are non-surgical treatments for spinal stenosis which many patients should consider.  There are a variety of exercises available, swimming, bicycling, stretching and Tai Chi are just a few to be named.  It should also be noted, exercising while you’re still young and building muscles in your back can help reduce the effects and rate at which you experience degeneration in your back.  Besides exercise, healthy eating and not becoming overweight can help prevent the effects of stenosis.  People who are overweight put more pressure on their spine and can increase the effects of compression.  We hope with this knowledge about spinal stenosis you will now take matters into your own hands and do your best to prevent the onset of spinal stenosis so that you don’t have to suffer the pain which millions of others have had to.

Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Spine surgery has developed a lot over the last century.  Doctors first began trying to conduct spine surgery in the 1800s but it was primarily used in attempts at curing children of back issues they were born with.  Fast forward to the First World War and we begin to see spine surgery become more common, and as a result, advances in technique are developed.  However, even as these techniques were developed, spine surgery was still seen as more of a last resort.  By the 1970s, our medical knowledge and techniques were capable of actually providing more effective and long term treatment.  The downside at this point in time was how big of an opening needed to be made to conduct the spine surgery.  This often caused damage to the surrounding muscles and left the patient with limited mobility during recovery and often a lot of pain.

Fortunately, new technologies have given us minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) in the last two decades.  Minimally invasive spine surgery doesn’t require a long incision to be cut which, as mentioned before, reduces damage to the muscles surrounding the spine and usually leaves a patient in far less pain than an open spine surgery would.  Due to the little amount of disturbance required by the surgery patients generally recover faster, too.

Let’s take a look at a few of the different technologies which have made minimally invasive spine surgery so viable today.

Microscopic cameras now allow doctors, like James K Kaufman MD, to cut a very tiny slit through which the miniature camera attached to a wire can be inserted and directed.  This development prevents doctors from needing to make 5-6 inch incisions and damage surrounding muscles and soft tissues in order to see the area in which they will perform the surgery.  The damage caused previously forced many patients to have lengthier hospital stays and experience new types of pain as muscles healed afterwards.

Computer guidance is the next advancement that came along with miniaturized cameras.  The ability for computers to help guide surgeons and their tools to exactly the right spot made procedures far more accurate and reduced the risk of causing damage to surrounding areas of the spine.

Tubular Refractor is a tool which allows doctors use all of the equipment mentioned above and make sure all of it is in the right place too.  The surgeon creates a small incision and inserts the tubular refractor in through the skin and soft tissues down to the spinal column.  The refractor acts as a tunnel via which the surgeon can insert the camera and tools needed to fix the problem with the spine.  Depending on the scope of the problem a surgeon sometimes has to insert more than refractor.

Thanks to these technologies and other advancements in science and medical knowledge being made on a regular basis, spine surgery has become a far more viable option for people who have tried physical therapy and other treatments which have proven ineffective.