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Physical therapy can provide noninvasive and effective treatment for spinal stenosis.

Back pain and neck pain are common conditions that cause patients to pursue physical therapy treatment. Spinal stenosis can cause neck and back pain as you age. However, if you are looking for spinal stenosis treatment, you may consider physical therapy. We’ve compiled a guide to help you understand how physical therapy can treat spinal stenosis.

What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs in older patients or people who have arthritis. The human spine contains a spinal cord that connects your nervous system throughout your body. The space between the spinal cord and the vertebrae in your back protects your nerves. As you age, this space can narrow or develop bone spurs, putting pressure on the spinal cord or the nerves branching out from the chord, resulting in pain. Spinal stenosis refers to this narrowing, which can occur at the top or bottom of your spine. The most common type of spinal stenosis is lumbar spinal stenosis, which develops in the base of your spine, resulting in lower back pain.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis can manifest in different ways depending on the body. Symptoms may also differ depending on what type of spinal stenosis you develop. Here are some common symptoms:

  • Pain in the lower back
  • Neck pain
  • Pain that worsens while walking
  • Numbness in the arms and hands
  • Cramping and numbness in the legs and feet
  • Weakness in a hand, arm or finger
  • Restricted or painful bowel function
  • Painful or restricted bladder function

The spine connects your nerves to your brain, where you register pain. This means that pain caused by your spine may register as pain in other parts of your body in your brain. That’s why nerves disturbed in your spine may register in your brain as pain in your arms or feet. The spine is a complex body part that contributes to several bodily functions, so it’s crucial to seek a medical diagnosis if you are experiencing consistent pain. With your diagnosis, you can seek neck or back pain treatment.

Diagnosing spinal stenosis

If you think you are experiencing pain caused by spinal stenosis, make an appointment with your physician. They may ask you questions about the type of pain you are experiencing. Pain can manifest in different ways, like an ache or a burning feeling. It may also appear consistently in one place. Describing when the pain occurs and whether moving or changing something in your posture or daily activities may also be relevant information for your doctor.

Typically, your doctor will administer x-rays and physical exams to narrow down the potential diagnoses. If your doctor diagnoses you with spinal stenosis, they may also speak with you about possible treatments to manage your pain and improve symptoms. The two main treatments are physical therapy and surgery. Your doctor may recommend a combination of both. According to the Harvard Health Blog, physical therapy can be as effective as surgery without the risks and extensive recovery time. Surgery is an invasive procedure that removes bone spurs or parts of your spine to release pressure. These types of surgery can have positive results for patients but may be reserved for extreme cases because of the physical strain of surgery.

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a treatment administered by licensed professionals to improve your range of movement, increase your fitness and manage pain. It is a holistic treatment focused on improving your overall health and mobility for specific conditions. Typically, your physical therapist trains you on particular movements and exercises that correct your movements to decrease pain. They can also help you find new ways of moving your body that reduce tension on specific body parts to improve your quality of life.

Types of physical therapy treatments for spinal stenosis

There are three ways a physical therapist may treat your spinal stenosis

1. Passive Therapy

Passive therapy focuses on improving your range of motion and pain symptoms as part of your spinal stenosis treatment. It is most useful for short-term goals. Your therapist may guide you through these movements during a session to help release the tension causing neck pain or back pain. Types of passive physical therapy include:

Deep tissue massage: Massage can release tightness in your muscles, reducing pressure on your spine.

Heat therapy: Applications of heat to draw more blood to the targeted area.

Cold therapy: Applying cold therapy can decrease swelling and internal inflammation.

2. Active Therapy

Active therapy focuses on exercises and movements the patient performs to build strength and improve their motion capabilities. It can also include finding new ways to perform tasks that reduce the patient’s interaction with pain. These active therapies can have other impacts, like improving posture and increasing abdominal muscles. They can also help you increase your endorphin output, reducing pain. Examples of active physical therapy are:

Stretches: Stretching can help build strength and release tension.

Targeted exercises: A physical therapist can develop a specific program for their patients, including exercises that target pain areas and weaknesses specific to their patient’s experience.

At Living Well Balanced, we offer a wide range of fitness and physical health services from caring and experienced professionals. We provide personal training focusing on holistic practices like intuitive movement to assist our clients in their health and wellness management. We also offer exercise classes like boxing and rock climbing to help you try different types of training. You can make an appointment with one of our physical therapists to learn how they can benefit your treatment plan for injury recovery or prevention and chronic pain. If you have any questions, you can always give us a call at 212-579-2858 or send an email to info@livingwb.com. Check out our blog for more information about alternative therapies and our wellness products for practicing self-care at home.