Beginner Exercises for Spinal Stenosis
Walking is a great beginners exercise for spinal stenosis. Now, we don’t need to give you too many directions on how to do this one, but it is important to understand why walking can help.
Walking allows us to get our heart rate up and workout our cardiovascular system. Increasing our heart rate allows more blood to flow through our body, which brings oxygen to areas of our back. This influx of blood flow and oxygen can then rid the body of toxins. Walking can also strengthen the muscles in the lower back so that the bones are better supported. Finally, walking as a cardio workout will help maintain a healthy body weight. Individuals with unhealthily high body weights will have a harder time managing their pain.
If walking isn’t appealing to you, try walking in a pool. “Water walking” can give you the same benefits as walking on land but without the joint pressure (discussed in more detail below under Advanced Exercises for Spinal Stenosis).
Running is not recommended because of the high impact it places on your lower back.
For those who are up for a bigger challenge, biking is great exercise for spinal stenosis. Whether you use a stationary bike or travel outdoors, biking can have all the benefits of walking – without the walk! It is critical that you use a bike suited to your own needs and that the act of cycling is comfortable to you. If bicycling is at all uncomfortable, you should not do it. Bicycling will only be effective in reducing your spinal stenosis pain if you are completely comfortable. Discomfort can indicate further irritation to your lower right side, which will only worsen your condition.
Perhaps one of the most popular poses in yoga, Child’s Pose allows the entire body to rest while stretching the lower back. For some, this exercise for spinal stenosis provides an instant relief.
- Begin on your hands and knees.
- Lower your buttock until it is resting on your ankles.
- With your head down, reach both arms outward and toward the floor, focusing on the stretch in the lower back. You may want to spread your knees apart from each other in order to provide more space for you to lean forward.
- Hold this pose for 10-20 seconds and repeat three to five times.
This should be a comfortable position that allows you to relax. No strain and discomfort should be experienced. Focus on pressing your hips towards the ground and remember to breathe and relax.
Cat and Cow Pose
Continuing with our yoga influence, the Cat and Cow Pose allows for an entire back stretch and is great exercise for spinal stenosis. In addition to stretching, the Cat and Cow Pose will help strengthen your back as well. It is argued that for some, the “cow” pose will not aide in your spinal stenosis recovery and may in fact worsen your condition.
- Begin on your hands and knees.
- Push your back up as if you were pushing your belly button toward the sky, while your roll your chin into your chest. At the same time, roll your shoulders forward and push your tailbone under – this will intensify the stretch in the lower back. This is the “Cat Pose.” Hold the Cat Pose for 3-5 seconds.
- Arch your back to make a “U” shape, pushing your bellybutton toward the ground while lifting your chin toward the sky. At the same time, roll your shoulders backward and push your tailbone out. This is the “cow pose.” Hold the cow pose for 3-5 seconds.
Repeat steps 2 & 3 five times so you are in the Cat and Cow Pose five times each. As always, no pain or discomfort should be experienced. If this seems stressful, consider doing less repetitions or sticking with Child’s Pose.
Another one of our favorites, the “knee grab,” requires little effort and gives you a great stretch while providing pain relief.
- Begin by lying with your back and feet on the ground.
- Move both knees towards your chest.
- Grab each knee with one hand and push them further into your chest. If more comfortable, you can interlock your arms around both of knees as if you were hugging your knees. You may also place your hands under your thighs instead.
- Hold this position for 30 – 60 seconds and/or slowly role left and right.
If you prefer, you can bring one knee to your chest at a time. For spinal stenosis and pain on the lower right side, emphasis on holding the stretch with your right knee should be considered. However, using both knees will by no means, “devalue” the stretch.
Perhaps the most consistent exercise you can do for your spinal stenosis is to make ergonomics part of your daily routine. Ergonomics is the study of efficiencies in a work environment. Here is a list of complete ergonomic exercises you can start today.
- Choose a chair that allows you to sit straight and has extra support for the small of your back.
- If the lower part of your back requires additional support, place a small pillow or folded towel on the small of your back.
- If your chair swivels, ensure that the movement required to make it swivel is minimal. You should not have to use your back at all to turn your chair in either direction.
- Place all regularly used items within easy reach. Any reaching that requires you to bend forward could aggravate your spinal stenosis.
Advanced Exercises for Spinal Stenosis
The benefits of swimming go far beyond alleviating your spinal stenosis pain. This full body exercise enables you to move at a comfortable pace while essentially leaving your body “pressure free” because of the weightlessness you experience in water. Being suspended in water allows your muscles and joints to relax while the act of swimming pushes them to focus on growth.
Just because you are in a pool doesn’t mean you have to be Michael Phelps! There are lots of exercises you can do in the pool to help with your spinal stenosis. First, jogging in place will get blood flowing through your body while keeping your joints pressure free. Even walking from one end to the other or treading water can have great effects on your recovery. The optimal combination of exercise and minimal pressure is a true gift to rehabilitation.
This exercise will aide in your recovery by increasing the flexibility and movement of your lower right back. This stretch gives your body an almost full rotation by providing your spine with optimal support.
- Begin by laying on your back on a flat and comfortable surface.
- Bring your knees toward your chest and lift your feet up bringing your legs to a 90-degree angle.
- While keeping your legs at a 90-degree angle and your back on the ground, move your legs to your left. Bring them to the point where they are almost touching the ground, hold for a moment before slowly bringing them back up to your starting position. Your legs or feet should never touch the ground. Repeat this process on the right side.
- Repeat step 3 five times (five rotations left and five rotations right).
- For additional support, stretch your arms out away from you, keeping your palms up.
- If you are struggling, try keeping your feet on the ground and/or do less repetitions. Again, this should never hurt or be painful.
Strengthening your lower abdomen inadvertently strengthens the muscles in your lower back. These strengthened muscles will aide in supporting your spine and thus your recovery. A useful exercise for spinal stenosis and abdominal strengthening is a pelvic tilt.
- Lie face up on a flat surface with both feet on the floor.
- Contract the muscles in your stomach and buttock while pushing your lower back to the floor. Focus on ridding the arch in your back. Make sure you breathe!
- Hold this for three to five seconds and then release, allowing the lower back to create a slight, natural arch.
- Repeat this process eight to ten times.
Exercises for Spinal Stenosis: Additional Recommendations
Avoid high impact activities like contact sports, jump rope, running, and jumping. These types of exercises put large amounts of pressure on the lower back, which will only exacerbate your condition.
You should also avoid standing for long periods of time.
When performing exercises for spinal stenosis you should not feel any pain. This is not a time where you should be “working through your pain.” Making this mistake will only increase your recovery time and possibly lead to more severe pain.
These exercises may not be appropriate for everyone and any exercise regiment should be discussed with your doctor before you begin.