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Exercises for Spinal Stenosis

The following question was answered by Cara Regas, MA, ATC, ACE-certified personal trainer at Fitness Quest 10.

I have spinal stenosis and would like to avoid having surgery. What exercises do you recommend doing in order to decrease my pain and improve my quality of life?
Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column, is a difficult injury to treat. I would highly recommend discussing any plans for exercise with your doctor prior to beginning a workout program. Depending on the severity and location of your stenosis, I recommend beginning slowly, and working on ergonomics, cardiovascular health, and stretching.

Be conscious of your posture when you sit, stand, and sleep. At your desk, sit in a chair that supports your lower back and if needed, place a towel or pillow in the small of your back to maintain your lordotic curve. Ensure that the items you use most often on your desk are a safe distance away - you do not want to put pressure on your back as you frequently reach for items (e.g.: phone, keyboard, pens, etc). In addition, make sure your computer is at an appropriate height: at eye level; your hips and knees are level, your head and neck are in alignment, your feet lie flat on the floor, and your wrists are in line with your elbows.  

Regular cardiovascular exercise helps maintain strength and flexibility in your spine, joints, and muscles. In addition, it aids in maintaining a healthy heart and lungs. Walk or ride a recumbent bicycle three times per week. Begin slowly (10 minutes or as pain permits) and increase your duration every two weeks. Attempt to reach 30 minutes three times per week with a goal of maintaining a healthy weight- extra weight will place more stress on the injured area.

Stretching prior to and following exercise can help reduce pain and improve blood flow through the injured area. Please note the following exercises to assist in stretching. Hold each stretch for approximately 30 seconds in order to obtain the most out of the stretch. 

1. Trunk Rotations
Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet in the air (90 degrees). Rotate your legs from side to side keeping your feet off of the ground.

2. Child’s Pose
On your hands and knees, lower your hips down to your heels and reach your hands out in front of you.
3. Cats and Dogs
On your hands and knees, pike your belly button into your spine and arch your back like a cat ready to fight. Hold in that position for 3 seconds. Stick out your rear and squeeze your shoulder blades together like a lazy dog. Alternate between those 2 positions.

4. Pigeon Pose
On your hands and knees, lift up your right leg and reach it back and behind your left leg. As you reach your leg back, lower your body (as though participating in child’s pose) and hold the stretch. You should feel it in your hips and gluteal muscles. Switch legs.

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