Spinal Stenosis and Walking Problems

Spinal stenosis is a condition that develops when the spinal canal narrows. It typically develops in older age and may affect your mobility. But, does spinal stenosis affect basic movements, like walking?

In this article, we’ll discuss how lumbar spinal stenosis can influence your ability to walk, as well as treatments that can restore your mobility. Rest assured, spinal stenosis and walking problems from the lumbar spine can be resolved with modern therapies. 

Does Spinal Stenosis Get Worse With Walking?

First off, let’s go over how spinal stenosis can affect your legs. 

With lumbar spinal stenosis, the spinal canal in the lower spine becomes narrower. This can lead to compression of the nerves that extend from the lumbar spine through the hips, buttocks, and down the legs. 

When the lumbar spinal nerves become compressed, it can lead to neurological symptoms in the legs, including numbness, tingling, weakness, burning, and/or cramping. Essentially, spinal stenosis suffocates the nerves supplying the legs. 

These neurological symptoms can make it difficult to move the legs and walk normally. Additionally, these symptoms are likely to worsen the longer you walk. 

Along with neurological symptoms, spinal stenosis can cause the following walking issues:

  • Persistent back pain while walking
  • A sensation of pressure in the lower back while walking
  • Difficulty lifting the top portion of the foot (known as drop foot)

Can Spinal Stenosis Stop You From Walking?

Spinal stenosis is unlikely to stop you from walking if you seek out prompt treatment. However, symptoms of this spinal condition worsen with time, particularly if you don’t receive treatments aimed at preventing further degeneration. 

If spinal stenosis reaches a severe stage, it may lead to excruciating pain and neurological symptoms while walking or sitting. In these cases of late-stage spinal stenosis, physicians often recommend surgery to restore the patient’s ability to walk and carry out other day-to-day tasks. 

Does Walking Ever Help Spinal Stenosis?

Although long periods of walking can be painful for spinal stenosis patients, it may also benefit this condition. Walking is a gentle, low-impact activity that can help you stay active with this condition. 

The potential benefits of walking with spinal stenosis include:

  • Increasing circulation, which promotes healing and nerve health
  • Maintaining strength in the muscles that support the spine and preventing muscle atrophy
  • Preventing stiffness and tension in the back
  • Promoting mood regulation, which can help you maintain a positive attitude throughout your recovery

Of course, you should follow all of your doctor’s instructions for physical activity with spinal stenosis. If you’re not sure whether or not it’s safe to walk, ask your doctor specifically. Your doctor can likely also advise you on how long to walk in a single outing, ensuring that you don’t walk for too long at once.  

Is Climbing Stairs Good For Spinal Stenosis?

Climbing stairs is similar to walking in the realm of physical activity. However, walking on a flat surface and walking at an incline present a few key differences for your spine.

In particular, when people climb upstairs, they tend to lean forward at the waist. This brings the lower back out of its usual alignment and tends to make it bend or flex. This position alters how the spine bears impact with each step. 

As a result, climbing stairs reduces the amount of space in the spinal canal. This temporarily exacerbates the effects of spinal stenosis, potentially leading to worsened pain and other symptoms.

If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, it’s wise to keep climbing stairs to a minimum.  

What is The Best Treatment For Spinal Stenosis?

We’ve established that spinal stenosis may diminish your ability to walk and partake in other physical activities. Thankfully, several treatments have proven to be effective for restoring mobility and alleviating symptoms in spinal stenosis patients.

Trusted treatments for lumbar spinal stenosis include:

  • Lifestyle adjustments

Physicians often recommend lifestyle adjustments as an early treatment for spinal stenosis. Losing weight may be suggested for overweight and obese patients, as extra pounds place pressure on the spine with each step. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight will lighten the load on your spine to encourage healing.  

  • Physical therapy

Physical therapy is a tried-and-true treatment method for spinal stenosis. It’s used both as a non-surgical treatment approach and to support the recovery process after spinal stenosis surgery. 

Your physical therapist may implement both a targeted exercise program and a passive treatment program. Targeted exercises for spinal stenosis typically involve strengthening the core and back muscles, which support the spine. Passive PT treatments may include hot and cold therapy, massage, acupuncture, and electrical stimulation. 

  • Medications

Physicians often recommend pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications to help patients manage spinal stenosis symptoms. These medications may be available over-the-counter or, for more persistent symptoms, require a prescription. 

  • Epidural steroid injections

Epidural steroid injections can offer fast relief from pain and inflammation in spinal stenosis patients. These injections are generally only implemented in moderate to severe spinal stenosis cases. Additionally, physicians generally only recommend three to four steroid injections per year, as using this treatment excessively can lead to tissue damage. 

  • Spinal stenosis surgery

If patients don’t experience any improvement after six to 12 months of non-surgical treatment, surgery may be considered. Spinal stenosis surgery typically involves spinal decompression surgery to create more space in the spinal canal and alleviate nerve compression. 

To prevent spinal instability, spine surgeons often perform spinal fusion after decompression surgery. Spinal fusion involves permanently fusing the affected vertebrae with bone graft material. Unfortunately, this process limits all motion in the fused segment. 

Non-fusion spinal devices can stabilize the spine after spinal decompression without fusion. Also known as motion preservation surgery, this emerging option for severe spinal stenosis can help patients regain mobility. 

Lumbar spinal stenosis and walking problems are closely linked. However, with an appropriate treatment plan, patients can attain pain relief and return to their normal activities. Contact a spine specialist in your area to learn about available treatment options.