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These seated exercises for spinal stenosis will not only help you ease your lower back pain naturally but help you keep up your activity level.
Sometimes it’s triggered by a specific movement… other times it stays with you the entire day. That low back pain followed by numbness, tingling, or weakness in your foot or leg.
Whether you experience this pain after standing or moving around, low back discomfort can make staying active seem challenging.
Especially if your pain is caused by spinal stenosis.
You may be stuck wondering how you can exercise without causing further damage.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine to your arms and legs.
Most commonly, it is caused by wear-and-tear (aka arthritis) changes in the spine.
While this disease may seem to be a diagnosis that will stop you from exercise, that isn’t the case just yet!
The Importance of Exercise for Spinal Stenosis
Many spinal specialists advise you to refrain from intense exercises when dealing with any compression of the spinal cord and its nerves.
However, exercise is an important and effective part of a spinal stenosis treatment plan and you should not refrain from exercise completely.
The exercises below safely increase the blood flow to your back, strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine, and help you to maintain flexibility.
In order to ensure your exercise routine is helpful to your lower back, follow these two below tips before getting started:
Tip #1: Redefine What Exercise Means
When you have lumbar spinal stenosis, you don’t need to lift heavy weights or run 10 miles to get the advantage of exercise.
Movement is movement, no matter how big or small.
Your spine reacts well to consistent gentle stretching and strengthening.
The key to exercising with spinal stenosis is always concentrating on the right form and taking it at your own pace.
Tip #2: Pay Attention to How You Feel
You may experience mild soreness in your body when you engage your muscles, but exercise should not hurt.
There is a difference between pain and discomfort and it is important that you learn that you shouldn’t be pushing into any pain when exercising.
Pain is a way for your body to communicate to you that something may be wrong. Be sure to listen and back off if needed!
You can try making the painful exercise less intense, performing fewer repetitions, or decreasing the range of motion.
Exercises for Spinal Stenosis in the Lower Back
Physical Therapists recommend people with lumbar spinal stenosis do flexion-based exercises and stretches.
What are flexion-based exercises? Movements that increase the rounding of the spine.
The opposite movement is arching your lower back and that movement is best to be avoided during physical activity.
When you round the spine forward, it opens up the space where the nerves travel out of the spinal column.
The opposite is true when you arch your back. Arching your back can actually close off that space and put more pressure on the nerves.
Below are 3 gentle seated stretches to promote strength, flexibility, and range of motion throughout your low back with a focus on flexion-based movement.
When you are in a seated position, your back naturally moves into a flexed alignment. That makes it the perfect place to safely perform exercises.
1. Seated Pelvic Tilt
Learning how to do a pelvic tilt strengthens your pelvic floor muscles (which support your lumbar spine) and also stretches your lower back.
This simple movement can be done anywhere and will help to upload the pressure on your nerves.
Sit upright in a chair with your shoulders relaxed. Take a deep inhale and expand your belly.
As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button in towards your spine and flattening your low back against the chair.
Hold this position for 5 seconds and then slowly relax.
Repeat 10 times.
Technique Check: In order to understand if you are performing this movement right (since there is very little movement to be seen/felt), take your hand and place your pinky finger on your hip bone, reaching your thumb on the lowest rib.
As you squeeze your abdominal muscles, the space between your pinky finger and thumb should get smaller.
2. Knee-to-Chest Stretch
Nerves exit the spinal cord in pairs: one is a sensory nerve (so you can feel); the other is a motor nerve (so you can move).
This knee-to-chest stretch will open up the space on one side of your spine deeply at a time to allow for both nerves to exit the spinal column.
Sit with your back against a chair. With your hands, pick up your right leg and hug it in towards your chest. You should feel a comfortable stretch.
Hold for 10 seconds, then slowly lower your leg.
Repeat 5 times, alternating between your legs.
Technique Check: This movement is considered a stretch so your leg shouldn’t be doing any of the work. Be sure to use your arms to lift up your leg and keep your lower body relaxed.
You will know you’re doing it right if you feel a pull in your lower back/buttock. There should not be pinching in the front of your hip. If there is, you have pulled your leg up too far.
3. Seated Forward Stretch
This next stretch again opens up your spinal column to relieve pressure on the nerves of your lower back, however, it lets gravity do all the work for you.
Sit with your back against a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Slowly bend yourself forward and reach towards the floor.
Hold the forward-folded position for 5 seconds. If you need a deeper stretch, grasp your ankles, and give a gentle tug. Slowly roll up to an upright position.
Repeat 10 times.
Technique Check: When performed correctly, you will feel this stretch throughout your back (and maybe your shoulders if they are tight). If you feel pinching in your hips, try placing a pillow on your lap and bend over it.
The above movements should be performed daily until your pain starts to decrease. Once pain occurs less, you can decrease to doing these exercises every other day.
Whatever you choose to do, remember to limit movements that force your lower back to arch.