You may know that physical therapy helps treat low back pain, but did you also know that physical therapy can help treat conditions such as spinal stenosis? Spinal stenosis is when there is less space around the spinal cord. This increases pressure on the spinal cord and its network of nerves.

Man who has spinal stenosis sitting in a field.

Early signs of spinal stenosis often appear on an x-ray, even though no other symptoms are present. The symptoms begin with an occasional twinge or pain in the neck and spine. Patients experience increased pain, numbness, and muscle weakness as the condition progresses. Bowel function and incontinence may also occur.

While some individuals are born with smaller spinal canals, many factors can lead to spinal stenosis. Trauma and injury to the spine, thickened ligaments, herniated discs, tumors, and the growth of bone spurs can narrow the available space in the canal. Most patients are over 50. Genetics are the culprit when younger patients have spinal stenosis. As a general rule, persistent pain, numbness, or weakness in the back, arms, or legs should be reported to a physician or physical therapist as quickly as possible.

The Key Benefits of Physical Therapy for Spinal Stenosis

Left untreated, spinal stenosis can progress and lead to severe limitations ranging from incontinence to paralysis. This can require surgery. Physical therapy helps in recovery and rehabilitation following surgery.

Therapy can be a stand-alone treatment without surgery. The three main advantages of therapy in spinal stenosis include:

Release of pressure in the spinal canal – Exercise under the supervision of the physical therapist is the key to relieving stress in the spinal canal. Clinical Pilates includes customized stretching and exercise programs to relieve pain, maintain flexibility, and strengthen the body. All patients learn optimal ways to sustain movement and reduce joint stress.

Improvement in spinal mobility – The use of skilled manual techniques by the therapist helps increase motion in the joints in the vertebral column. Joints commonly ‘lockdown’ when under stress. Physical therapy can improve joint movement by manipulating the joint and releasing nerve pressure.

Pain relief and muscle relaxation – Using heat, massage, and even water as a medium for exercise can relieve pain and help reduce muscle spasms. A physical therapist will use various techniques to create a calming environment for muscles and joints. This helps reduce pain and increase the strength of muscle contractions during recovery. A proven technique is ultrasound waves to relieve pain and improve blood circulation.

Physical Therapy Should be the “First Choice” of Treatment

Graphic of a spine with a slipped disc.

The American Physical Therapy Association states, “Physical therapy for spinal stenosis is as effective as surgery and should be fully considered as a first-choice treatment option.”

Any condition affecting the spinal cord has the potential to impact critical functions. Therefore, it is essential to look for signs and symptoms of spinal cord compression and seek help quickly.

Reduce or eliminate the need for surgery by visiting a physical therapist at the first sign of pain. Patients benefit from the clinical judgment of a licensed physical therapist and state-of-the-art treatment techniques. Therapy will help restore the health of your spine, allowing you to regain full function.

Call us immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing numbness, tingling, or pain in the neck or spine. We can help with a variety of techniques to accommodate your individual needs. Your spine is critical for all your day-to-day activities, and we will always strive to make you healthy and pain-free.