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Low back pain and lumbar stenosis


Lumbar stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which results in compression of the nerves in the lower back. The narrowing is most often due to degenerative changes, but it can also be caused by space occupying lesions like a tumor. The resulting nerve compression can cause pain, numbness and tingling in the legs.

What causes stenosis

Some people are born with a small spinal canal. But most spinal stenosis occurs when something happens to reduce the amount of open space within the spine. Causes of spinal stenosis include:

  • Bone spurs. Wear-and-tear damage from arthritis can cause extra bone to grow on the spine. These are called bone spurs. They can push into the spinal canal. Paget's disease also can cause extra bone to grow on the spine.

  • Herniated disks. Disks are the soft cushions that act as shock absorbers between your spinal bones. If part of the disk's soft inner material leaks out, it can press on the spinal cord or nerves.

  • Thick ligaments. The strong cords that help hold the bones of your spine together can become stiff and thick over time. Thick ligaments can push into the spinal canal.

  • Tumors. Rarely, tumors can form inside the spinal canal.

  • Spinal injuries. Car accidents and other trauma can cause spinal bones to break or move out of place. Swelling of nearby tissue right after back surgery also can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

What are the symptoms of lumbar stenosis?

  • Pain that is worse with sitting or standing.

  • Pain that is relieved by lying down.

  • Pain that is relieved by bending forward, such as when reaching for something on the floor or putting on shoes and socks.

  • Pain that comes on suddenly and gets worse over time, especially with coughing, sneezing (and other activities), exercise or lifting objects weighing less than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms).

What is the treatment for lumbar stenosis?

Lumbar stenosis is a common condition that can be treated with physical therapy, medication, surgery and complementary therapies. In some cases, lifestyle changes may also be recommended to help manage your symptoms.

Physical therapy is often recommended as part of the treatment plan for lumbar stenosis. The goal of physical therapy is to strengthen your core muscles so they can support your spine and relieve pressure on nerves in the lower back. Your therapist may also teach you exercises that help improve flexibility in your lumbar spine, hip flexors and hamstrings, which can help reduce strain on the low back. Education regarding activity management, posture, ergonomics, lifting techniques, and more should also be included in the PT plan of care.

Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be prescribed by doctors who specialize in treating conditions affecting bones and joints when conservative treatments like rest do not provide sufficient relief from symptoms.

Invasive and non-invasive surgical interventions may be required if pain continues to interfere with mobility and activity participation.

With proper treatment, patients can manage their pain and improve their quality of life.

If you have lumbar stenosis, physical therapy can be an effective treatment option. Physical therapists will work to improve your range of motion and strength as well as teach you how to manage your pain. In addition, many patients find that exercise and other treatments help them manage their symptoms as they learn how best to care for themselves at home.

If you have questions about low back pain or would like more information on how we can help you with your condition, contact us today!


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