Lumbar spinal stenosis exercises are a popular conservative therapy for many stenosis sufferers. Exercises are prescribed to patients with all manner of stenosis problems, including central canal and neuroforaminal loss of patency. However, what is the actual purpose of exercise and how effective will it be in relieving pain or increasing functionality?
Exercise therapy is the traditional medical system’s primary weapon against stenosis that does not involve pharmaceutical use or surgical intervention. The most widely used form of exercise is certainly formal physical therapy, but some doctors provide advice on home treatment of stenosis using exercise, as well. It is great that physical therapy allows patients to avoid invasive care, but is exercise really a good choice for treating lumbar stenosis?
This focused dialog explores the use of exercise techniques as a nonsurgical stenosis therapy. We will look at the risks and benefits of exercises, as well as provide some analysis of the goals of exercise treatment. Finally, we will explore some of the lesser known reasons why physical therapy has become such as major part of the spinal stenosis treatment path for most patients.
Benefits of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Exercises
Exercise is a positive lifestyle activity that is great for the body. In fact, exercise is needed in order to maintain good health and complete functionality at every age of life. When spinal stenosis becomes symptomatic, many patients find that they do not get the exercise they normally require and therefore gain weight, lose flexibility and generally fall out of shape physically. Adding exercise treatment to a patient’s care plan will reverse these negative lifestyle factors. Additionally exercise will demonstrate the following benefits for lumbar stenosis sufferers:
Central stenosis patients are suffering from a lack of patency in the lumbar canal space. Exercises will target this location by forcing the patient to bend forward, temporarily increasing the available diameter of the central vertebral canal. Many patients find symptomatic reduction during periods of exercise that involve forward bending positions.
Targeted exercise can also help to increase the size of the neuroforaminal openings at stenotic levels, temporarily improving pinched nerve symptoms associated with neuroforaminal stenosis.
Exercise causes the body to release endorphins and other organic chemicals which lower the degree of pain being experienced. The effects of these bodily chemicals can last for a while after the exercise is finished.
Exercise improves circulation, relieving the effects of regional ischemia. Since many stenosis sufferers are misdiagnosed and are actually affected by lumbar oxygen deprivation, exercise provides substantial, yet short-lived relief for these cases profiles.
Downside of Spinal Stenosis Exercises
While exercise is great for overall health and wellness, it falls short for treating stenosis as a specific symptomatic condition. Here are the factors that make exercise seem less than ideal as a dedicated therapy option:
Exercises will never cure stenosis. Exercise does not act on the inside of the spinal canal, so it can not cure any type of stenosis. Many patients are not informed of this basic fact and routinely write to us asking why their stenosis remains despite being in physical therapy for a long time. We would like to see more disclosure on the part of prescribing physicians in this regard.
Exercises can exacerbate pain in many patients. Regardless of whether they suffer from foraminal or central canal stenosis, a large percentage of patients can not perform their exercise without a great deal of pain. The usual medical solution is to continue to recommend exercise, but to also prescribe very powerful painkilling drugs to counteract the symptomatic escalation. These poisonous pills do more harm than the exercise does good, for sure, unbalancing the risk/benefit ratio of exercise therapy.
The major downside of all exercise treatment is that benefits gained, if any, are extremely temporary and the symptoms generally return within a very short time after exercise ceases. One can not exercise around the clock, so patients are still forced to utilize alternative methods of pain relief, such as chiropractic, massage, TENS, drugs or acupuncture.
Widespread Use of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Exercises
Why has exercise become the gold standard for treating virtually all types of spinal stenosis conditions? The answer to this question is multi-part and speaks volumes about the business side of our modern medical establishment:
Exercise treatment using physical therapy sessions is very profitable. Doctors know that exercise will not provide a cure and if it helps, the patient will want to come as often as possible to find moments of relief. This makes physical therapy incredibly profitable.
Doctors also know that most patients will eventually tire of any type of symptomatic care and many will eventually demand a curative approach of care be used to resolve their stenosis. This always means that spinal stenosis surgery is the eventual destination for most therapy routines. While surgery is highly profitable, adding the money from many months or years of physical therapy prior to the operation will increase financial gain many times over. Better still, the patient will once again require extensive physical therapy after the operation, adding more money to the mix.
Finally, the insurance companies have embraced the medical industry’s idea of care by virtually always requiring that the patient attempt several rounds of physical therapy before allowing policy coverage for surgical intervention. Doctors love this, since it supports their ability to maximize profit from each and every patient.
Lumbar Stenosis Exercises at Home
There is no research that shows particular exercises as being definitively superior to any other for the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis. We therefore recommend that patients explore their many options, including the use of activity-related exercise routines and home-use approaches to care. We have met patients who enjoyed the use of several forms of exercise more than physical therapy, including the use of swimming, tai chi, Pilates, yoga and general calisthenics.
Just remember that activities that increase the bend in the lower back are generally regarded as beneficial for lumbar stenosis patients, while activities that straighten the lower back are generally deemed to be painful. If this is not your reality, then the entire diagnosis of lumbar spinal stenosis might not be correct in the first place, especially when discussing a loss of patency in the central canal space.