Recovering from Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

If you’re suffering from lumbar spinal stenosis, you may experience back pain, stiffness, and neurological symptoms on a daily basis. While these symptoms can diminish your quality of life, there is a path to recovery from lumbar spinal stenosis. 

In this article, we’ll discuss lumbar spinal stenosis and the range of treatment options available to help you recover from this condition. 

What is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?

Lumbar spinal stenosis, a common medical problem, occurs when the lower portion of the spinal canal becomes narrower. The spinal canal is the center of the spinal column and houses the spinal nerves, which relay sensory information to the brain and control muscular movements.

The term stenosis comes from Latin and means “a narrowing”. When a portion of the spinal canal narrows unnaturally, it can place pressure on the spinal nerves. These pinched nerves can, in turn, cause pain and limited mobility.

Many people may be wondering what causes spinal stenosis. While this condition can stem from a variety of factors, it’s most commonly caused by osteoarthritis. 

What Activities Should be Avoided With Spinal Stenosis?

Certain activities can exacerbate spinal stenosis, leading to worsened pain and stiffness. So, while spinal stenosis patients need to remain physically active to promote circulation and strengthen the back muscles, the following activities should be avoided:

  • Running

Running is considered a high-impact exercise. This means that it places considerable stress on the joints and the spine. 

  • Long walks

Walking is a low-impact exercise that you can do anywhere, without a gym membership. So, it’s an excellent option for many spinal stenosis patients. However, patients should be sure to limit their walking sessions to avoid pain flare-ups. 

  • Stretches and yoga poses that require hyperextension of the spine

To hyperextend the spine means to arch the spine beyond its natural anatomical position. Any exercise that involves hyperextending the spine can worsen spinal stenosis pain, as this movement involves compressing the spinal structures. 

  • Contact sports

Contact sports involve a higher risk of injury than other physical activities. These sports may involve a sudden impact or trauma, which may exacerbate spinal stenosis or even cause additional injuries. 

Additionally, spinal stenosis patients need to practice good posture while exercising. Poor posture while lifting weights, for example, can place extra stress on the spine and aggravate back pain. 

All of the factors listed above are also things to avoid with cervical spinal stenosis. 

Does Spinal Stenosis Hurt All The Time?

In most cases, spinal stenosis pain comes and goes. Pain from spinal stenosis may flare up whenever the spinal nerves are compressed or irritated, such as when you stand or walk for long periods. 

Generally, spinal stenosis isn’t progressive, meaning that it doesn’t gradually worsen over time. However, certain factors can worsen spinal stenosis or lead to more frequent pain flare-ups, including poor posture, smoking, being overweight, and being physically inactive. 

What is Considered Severe Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis ranges in severity. Some cases are asymptomatic because the spinal canal hasn’t narrowed enough to impart pressure on nearby nerves. However, severe spinal stenosis can cause debilitating pain and neurological symptoms. 

What Are The Final Stages of Spinal Stenosis?

Patients may have what’s considered to be severe spinal stenosis if:

  • Excruciating flare-ups of back pain
  • Extreme weakness in both legs
  • Loss of bowel and/or bladder control
  • Severe numbness in the legs

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, visit a physician immediately for medical treatment. These symptoms can result from serious medical complications, including cauda equina syndrome, that may trigger loss of leg function.  

Can Lumbar Stenosis Be Reversed?

Technically speaking, the only way to reverse spinal stenosis is through surgical intervention. However, the good news is that a variety of treatment options, including non-surgical methods, are available and have been proven effective in helping individuals recover from spinal stenosis symptoms.

What Is The Best Treatment For Spinal Stenosis?

Conservative, non-invasive spinal stenosis treatments include: 

  • Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes are often an effective way to manage lumbar spinal stenosis. A low-impact exercise regimen, shedding extra pounds, quitting smoking, maintaining proper posture, and eating a nutrient-dense diet can all positively contribute to your lumbar stenosis recovery. 

  • Medications

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can help patients manage pain from spinal stenosis. In some cases, physicians prescribe stronger medications to help treat lumbar stenosis, although it’s not considered a long-term solution. 

  • Physical therapy

Physical therapy is an essential component of a conservative treatment plan for lumbar spinal stenosis. PT for spinal stenosis typically involves exercises to strengthen and stabilize the muscles that support the spine and stretches to alleviate tension. Your physical therapist will also likely work with you to improve the alignment of the spine through proper posture. 

  • Anti-inflammatory injections

Anti-inflammatory injections are rarely the first treatment recommendation for lumbar stenosis pain. However, patients experiencing persistent pain may benefit from the effects of epidural steroid injections, which alleviate inflammation throughout the body. To prevent tissue damage, however, patients should receive no more than three to four injections per year. 

For patients with spinal stenosis, there’s no way of knowing which of these approaches will be most successful. So, physicians often prescribe one of these treatments as a first step and monitor the results. If the first method doesn’t help the patient recover from spinal stenosis, the next option may be tried, and so on.

Is stretching good for spinal stenosis?

We’ve already mentioned that low-impact exercise is beneficial for spinal stenosis. However, many patients wonder whether or not to include stretching in their regimen of spinal stenosis exercises. 

Stretching is, in fact, good for spinal stenosis. Gentle stretches can help release muscle tension, improve mobility, and promote circulation. 

Is heat good for spinal stenosis?

Many patients with spinal stenosis experience tension in the back muscles, which may limit mobility and exacerbate back pain. The heat helps relax the muscles while increasing blood flow to the affected area. This can enhance the body’s healing process. 

How Long Does Lumbar Stenosis Take to Heal?

The amount of time needed to fully recover from lumbar stenosis will differ depending on the patient and the treatment plan. However, generally speaking, most patients recover from spinal stenosis within six months to a year of beginning treatment. 

Surgery For Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

For patients with moderate to severe spinal stenosis who don’t respond to conservative treatments, surgery may be recommended. Spinal stenosis surgery typically involves spinal decompression surgery, during which the surgeon trims away excess bone in the narrowed center of the affected vertebra. This relieves pressure on the compressed nerve(s). 

The Recovery Process For Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Surgery

Lumbar laminectomy is the most common surgical procedure for spinal stenosis. Typically, patients can return to their regular activities four to six weeks after this procedure. It may take up to six months for patients to experience complete pain relief after a lumbar laminectomy. 

Fusion With Lumbar Stenosis Surgery

Historically, a spinal fusion back surgery operation has been performed in conjunction with decompression surgery to relieve spinal stenosis. Spinal fusion stabilizes the region of the spine that’s treated during the operation. 

Unfortunately, spinal fusion involves a variety of risks. For one, patients lose a great deal of mobility in the back after fusion and can no longer twist, bend, and flex the spine. This permanently limits their activities after the surgery. 

Additionally, spinal fusion requires a significant recovery process. Patients may not fully heal until a year after the procedure. 

Fusion Alternatives For Spinal Stenosis Patients

Considering these risks, patients are interested in emerging alternatives to spinal fusion. 

One such alternative is the TOPS System procedure, which provides better clinical outcomes than spinal fusion surgery.

The TOPS System from Premia Spine preserves the spine’s full range of motion. This is unlike spinal fusion, which permanently fuses adjacent vertebrae. TOPS also offers a much quicker surgical recovery for spinal stenosis patients than spinal fusion.

If you’re a candidate for spinal stenosis surgery, consider all of the advanced surgical solutions available today, as well as the impact that each will have on your healing process.