One of the most commonly diagnosed spinal conditions is spinal stenosis. Because degenerative changes of the spine are seen in up to 95% of people by the age of 50, spinal stenosis is most often seen in adults over the age of 60. Since it affects the lumbar spine (lower back), patients who suffer from spinal stenosis will commonly feel tightness and discomfort, originating in the lower back and radiating to the buttocks and both legs.
Fortunately, very few cases of spinal stenosis require surgical treatment. Instead, patients can use physical therapy and pain management to help manage their pain and treat their condition. Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics, serving patients throughout northern New Jersey, provides further details on the goals and benefits of physical therapy for spinal stenosis patients.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
As a person ages, it is common for the spinal canal to narrow, as it is a part of the natural aging process. Because the spinal canal houses spinal nerves and the spinal cord, this narrowing often leads to discomfort and pain for patients. The more pressure that is placed on the nerves, the more severe and debilitating the symptoms of spinal stenosis are. Common symptoms of this spinal condition include:
- Pain in the lower back
- Numbness or tingling in bilateral extremities
- Muscle weakness in both arm or legs
- Pain that tends to worsen after standing for long periods
- Pain that lessens when sitting, slightly bending forward, leaning, or walking uphill
To diagnose spinal stenosis, a patient will undergo an X-ray of their spine. While examining the X-ray, the physician will be able to locate the exact location of the degeneration and determine how severe it is. Patients need to remember that while they may not be experiencing any symptoms, this does not mean degeneration and narrowing aren’t occurring.
Physical Therapy for Spinal Stenosis
Nonsurgical treatments, such as physical therapy, often are recommended to help patients restore function and relieve pain. While physical therapy does not correct the narrowing of the spinal canal, it has been proven to help treat a patient’s symptoms just as effectively as surgery.
A physical therapist will examine a patient to get a better understanding of the patient’s condition. During this examination, the physical therapist will assess the following:
- Mobility of the vertebrae of the lumbar spine
- How well the spine bends and twists in different directions
- The strength of a patient’s core, back, and hip muscles
- The patient’s balance
- The patient’s posture
- The patient’s ability to change positions
- How the patient walks
With a better understanding of a patient’s condition, a physical therapist can then begin creating an appropriate treatment plan. While every patient’s treatment plan may be different based on their age and how progressed their condition is, generally, the goals of physical therapy include:
- Improve the range of motion of the lumbar spine
- Reduce tightness in the surrounding muscles of the spinal canal
- Help relieve joint stiffness and pain
- Decrease nerve compression
- Strengthen core muscles
- Improve alignment of the lumbar spine with better posture
- Increase leg strength to improve balance and enhance the overall function
To accomplish these goals, patients will be put through a series of stretches and exercises all designed to help stabilize the spine and improve the quality of life for the patient. Areas that a physical therapist will focus on are the muscles that run vertically down the spine as well as those running diagonally from the pelvis to the lumbar spine. Physical therapists also will focus on stretching hamstrings and hip flexors as restriction of hip muscles can directly affect the mobility of the spine. Strengthening a patient’s core and leg muscles are an important part of physical therapy, too, as it aids with spine stabilization.
Find Quality Care at CNSO
Patients who are suffering from debilitating symptoms of spinal stenosis can receive the care they need at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO). Serving patients in the greater northern New Jersey area, CNSO’s qualified physical therapy staff can aid in stretching and strengthening a patient’s muscles to help relieve symptoms and improve the overall quality of health. To learn more about our spinal stenosis treatments or to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified physicians, simply contact us today.