If you’re not familiar with it, spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal – the space that contains the spinal cord. This is most often caused by degenerative changes; some sort of normal shift or loss that occurs over time, such as with herniated discs, arthritic changes, compression fractures, etc. This stenosis, or narrowing of that space, can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. The two most common places for this to occur are in the neck (cervical stenosis) and the low back (lumbar stenosis). Most often, stenosis can begin with little to no sign that anything is wrong. Progression of symptoms happens over time as the stenosis worsens. The most common symptoms include numbness, tingling, and weakness of the limbs and in some severe cases, organ function may be affected as well. 

There are many treatment options for spinal stenosis depends on the severity of the case, such as pain-relieving medications, steroid injections, and surgical decompression procedures. However, with the appropriate movements and exercise regimen such as with massage therapy and physical therapy, much of that pressure can often be relieved. If you’ve got some progressed symptoms and are dealing with the pain of those nerve compressions, movement and exercise may be the last thing you think you need, but it is often the best course of action. Getting through the first few minutes, and the first few sessions are the hardest part, but once you’re past that, you’ll often start to see some pretty powerful improvement. Your goal when it comes to exercise is to strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain (the low back, glutes, and hamstrings) and strengthen the abdominal musculature, which is responsible for stabilizing the spine. Here are some exercises that might help. 

Bent knee glute bridge 

This can be one of the most beneficial movements when it comes to posterior chain strength and spinal health. Start by lying face-up on the floor, with your knees bent to 45 degrees and your feet flat on the floor about a foot in front of your knees. Relax your arms by your side. Push your heels into the ground while lifting your hips off the floor until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line, all the while squeezing your glutes. Hold for 3 seconds and slowly return to the ground. If possible, perform 3 sets of 20 repetitions. 

Bird dog 

Start on all four limbs with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips directly. Brace your abs while keeping your back and pelvis as stable as possible. Reach one arm in front of you while pushing your opposite leg out directly behind you. Don’t let your pelvis or trunk rotate and try not to let your rib cage push toward the floor. This should be a slow and controlled movement. Return to starting position and repeat the movement on the other side. Complete 3 sets of 8 repetitions per side.  

Side plank 

Start by lying on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder. Brace your core and lift your hips off the floor, keeping your head, trunk, hips, knees, and feet all in a straight line. Your goal is to stay as stable as possible when your hips are elevated. Hold this position for 30 seconds at a time. Complete 3 sets of these on each side.  

While spinal stenosis can be painful, it is important to remain as active as possible to prevent the worsening of your symptoms. Low impact exercises such as riding a stationary bike or swimming are often recommended in addition to the exercises above. Because the exact cause and nature of the stenosis may be unique for each patient, talk with your doctor and physical therapist about the best exercises for your specific type and start taking an active approach to managing it.