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Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis - By: Robert H. Witt, PT


Large numbers of senior citizens are developing a condition known as spinal stenosis. With spinal stenosis, there is a narrowing in the spinal canal. The canal is the hollow center of the spinal column, which contains and protects the spinal cord and nerve roots. Stenosis most often affects the lumbar spine (low back), where the nerves which control the muscles and sensation in the legs.

Most cases of spinal stenosis are due to complex degenerative changes that include degeneration of both the disc and facet joints. The stenosis squeezes the spinal cord and nerve roots, causing significant pain and difficulty when walking. Most patients with spinal stenosis complain of pain in the lumbar spine and down one or both legs with activity, especially walking. The farther a patient walks, the more pain. Sitting or bending the back forward enlarges the space available to the nerves and may offer relief, but isn't good positioning for this condition.

Pictured below is a normal spinal canal as well as a narrowed canal affected by stenosis.

When swelling from inflammation is causing some of the pressure on the nerves, a physician may prescribe anti-inflammatory as well as physical therapy. The goal of physical therapy is to reduce the inflammation and pain with a gradual resumption of activity. specific exercises in stretching and stabilization is often effective in the management of spinal stenosis as well as patient education in the condition. aerobic activity such as bicycling is often encouraged. Weight reduction to decrease the load on the spine is also important.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consultation with an orthopedic and physical therapist may be beneficial in helping you maintain your normal active lifestyle.

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