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Exercises for Spinal Stenosis

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If you are in pain from spinal stenosis, you probably don't even want to think about exercising.  However, as counterintuitive or impossible as it sounds, exercise, stretching, and movement can help relieve your spinal stenosis pain.

A few notes first:

  • Please, before starting any exercise regimen or activity, talk to your doctor.  He or she may have recommendations for what types of exercise would be best for you, and he or she will be able to caution you against certain exercises.  Since your doctor knows your pain history and symptoms well, he or she is your best resource for information and recommendations.
  • You should, in general, avoid any activities that put too much stress on your spine (contact sports, for example). 
  • The old adage "no pain, no gain" doesn't apply here.  What you're trying to do is take good care of your spine, strengthen the muscles that support the spine, and maintain your range-of-motion; you aren't trying to become a power lifter or Olympic swimmer.  Pay attention to your body's signals, and if your pain increases or if you notice new pain, stop and call your doctor.

Types of Exercise for People with Spinal Stenosis

Walking is a suitable exercise for you if you have spinal stenosis.  It is low-impact, and you can easily vary the pace as needed.  Consider a daily walk (perhaps on your lunch break or as soon as you get home).  As a bonus, a daily walk is an excellent time to de-stress (if you need that), and, if you can swing it, a walk outdoors can be beautiful.

Swimming is also an ideal exercise because it exercises all your back muscles in a safe, supportive environment. The water supports your weight well, which means that there's less weight on your back.

You could also do water walking.

Daily Stretches for Spinal Stenosis

SpineUniverse has a video series on stretches you can do every day to help relieve your spinal stenosis pain.  These videos were made in conjunction with a physical therapist, along with input from a spine surgeron.  There are 3 exercises you can do, and there's a video for each one of them.

Again, though, we must caution:  Please talk to your doctor (or physical therapist) before trying any new exercise or stretch.  Make sure it is all right for you to do it.

Watch the spinal stenosis exercise videos.

More In-depth Articles on Spinal Stenosis Treatments

Get Moving with Spinal Stenosis

While it may be tempting to simply not exercise when you have spinal stenosis, keep in mind that if you don't move at all—if you think that laying down will heal your pain—you could actually make your pain worse.  By taking into account what your body can handle and developing a schedule that's doable, you can take healthy steps every day towards relieving your spinal stenosis pain.

Updated on: 01/23/13
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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