Spinal stenosis is a progressive narrowing of the spine that can cause little or no discomfort for many years. Over time, age-related changes affecting the spine may contribute to increasingly noticeable symptoms such as numbness, tingling sensations, and general weakness extending to arms, legs, or other extremities. Some people with spinal stenosis also have difficulty walking and maintaining balance. There’s nothing that can be done to reverse spinal stenosis, but there are some ways to ease the symptoms and slow the progression of the condition as much as possible.
Exercise slows the progression of spinal stenosis by increasing the strength of the muscles that directly or indirectly support the spine. Remaining active with core-strengthening workouts and low-impact forms of exercise such as biking and daily walking may take enough stress off of your spine to minimize issues in narrow areas. Regular exercise can keep your weight in check, which further minimizes spinal stress. Spinal stenosis symptoms may also be eased with forms of exercise such as:
• Stationary bike riding (if traditional biking is too uncomfortable)
• Yoga, tai chi, and other controlled-movement disciplines
• Water-based exercises like swimming or water aerobics
Sitting can be a double-edged sword for spinal stenosis patients. Though it may provide welcome relief by taking some of the pressure off of compressed nerves, too much time spent sitting can irritate muscles and other soft tissues around the lower spine enough to increase inflammation and irritate nerves. Instead, make an effort to get up every 30-60 minutes or so to stand, stretch, or walk around to prevent putting too much prolonged pressure on any one part of your spine. Also, avoid slouching and leaning excessively to one side or another when sitting.
How you sit and position yourself during daily commutes or any other times you’re in a motor vehicle can affect the severity of your spinal stenosis symptoms. First of all, avoid reclining your seat back so far that it’s not providing sufficient support. It can also be helpful to:
• Place a rolled-up towel or pillow around the small of your back
• Sit up straight as you drive to maintain your spine’s proper alignment
• Use a lumbar support cushion if you have lumbar spinal stenosis, or a u-shaped neck pillow if you have cervical spinal stenosis
Use pillows placed either between your knees or under your back or stomach (depending on your sleep position) to keep your spine aligned properly as you sleep. Any sleep positions that throw off your alignment could irritate nerves enough to either wake you up from a sound sleep or give you some discomfort when you get up and start moving.
Also, don’t forget about your mattress. An older mattress, even one that was once just right for you at one point, can wear down over the years enough to change how your spine is supported as you snooze. Opt for a mattress that provides the right type of support for your body and spine.
It’s not a coincidence that the increased habitual use of various mobile devices correlates with a rise in cervical spinal stenosis among younger people. The problem is that excessive neck craning or forward leaning can throw off upper-spine and neck alignment enough to affect the nerves.
You don’t have to give up your smartphone, iPad, laptop, e-reader, or handheld games if you have spinal stenosis. However, it can be helpful to:
• Avoid sitting with your laptop or other devices in your lap
• Hold your device out in front of you so you’re not craning your neck
• Use stands placed on a table, desk, or stand at eye level for your tablet or e-reader if you’ll be using such devices for a long time
• Take a break from your devices from time to time to stretch and walk around
If the tips discussed above aren’t relieving your symptoms enough to allow you to enjoy the quality of life you prefer, talk to a Beverly Hills spine surgeon. Some people with spinal stenosis also respond well to chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, and alternative pain management methods like acupuncture. Certain surgical procedures may also relieve nerve pressure by creating more space in narrow areas of the spinal canal.
If you’re experiencing chronic neck pain and want to find relief, you may want to consider minimally invasive neck surgery. Beverly Hills patients can call The Spine Institute today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an in-person evaluation.