Picture of a man suffering from spinal stenosis

The Best Spinal Stenosis Exercises for Pain Relief

Aching pain in the legs as you walk? Stiff back that gets gradually worse the more you do each day? You could be suffering from spinal stenosis. If you are looking for the best spinal stenosis exercises for pain relief, we can help.

There are certainly exercises you can do that will help, and today we reveal what the best spinal stenosis exercises for pain relief are.

But first – What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis simply means “narrowing of the spinal canal and the areas where the nerves exit the spine“.

The word “stenosis” simply means narrowing. That’s why on MOST MRI scans, we see the word “stenosis” or “stenotic changes” on the report. If there are any spaces in the spine that are narrowed beyond what we would consider “normal”, the radiologist will use the term stenosis.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have “true” spinal stenosis, which is categorised by the presence of the following 2 symptoms:

  • Back pain that is worse when walking and standing, but goes away when you sit or lie down.
  • Neurogenic claudication” – a term to describe a throbbing, dull ache in the lower legs (usually calves) that continues to worsen as you walk and stand, but goes away when you sit down.

“True” spinal stenosis is caused by widespread narrowing of the spaces in the spine where the nerves run through.

It is extremely uncommon for anyone under the age of 50 to suffer from true spinal stenosis.

You may have been told that you have a “disc bulge causing stenosis” in the spine. As confusing as this is, you likely don’t have TRUE spinal stenosis (you probably have narrowing in just one area of the spine). Therefore, the information in this article may not apply to you.

What about recovery from spinal stenosis?

Unfortunately, the structural changes that have occurred to cause true spinal stenosis are caused by the degenerative process of ageing and the structure of your spine will not return to “normal”, no matter the treatment.

It’s usually the ageing process that has led to these changes and we can’t reverse these structural changes in the spine.

However, all is not lost – it IS possible to improve symptoms in spinal stenosis, even if we can’t change the physical structures in the spine.

I’ve had many testimonials from people with spinal stenosis using my rehabilitation programs and getting a great outcome, as well as new strategies to control their symptoms when they arise. So it’s definitely worth the effort of finding the best exercises for spinal stenosis if you are struggling with this condition.

The best exercises for spinal stenosis will help people with this condition by doing the following:

  • Improving the flexibility of the muscles in the legs and reducing the “pull” on the spine so you can walk for further before pain
  • Relieving tension in the back muscles and reducing back pain
  • Improving fitness capacity so you walk for further with perfect technique, delaying pain
  • Improving flexibility in the spine which lubricates the joints that the nerves run through
  • Restoring health to the pinched nerves and reducing leg pain

I think the above constitutes a pretty compelling argument for having a good exercise program for spinal stenosis! However, it’s very easy to get it wrong when selecting exercises for spinal stenosis. Choose the wrong ones, and you’re going to make your back sore and bring on leg pain even quicker than before.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you know about the best spinal stenosis exercises so you can create your own list of safe, effective exercises!

So, without further ado, let’s look at the best spinal stenosis exercises for pain relief.

The Best Spinal Stenosis Exercises:

The exercises provided on this page for informational purposes only and are not designed to be a ‘prescription’ of any kind. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before you begin any new exercise programme.

Best Spinal Stenosis Exercise #1: Knee Hugs

knee hugs are one of the best spinal stenosis exercises

Why this is one of the best spinal stenosis exercises:

The common theme for the recommended exercises for spinal stenosis is that they all involve the opposite of spinal extension – we call this movement FLEXION.

Flexion exercises for spinal stenosis tend to bring about a much better outcome than extension exercises.

In the above picture, you can see how as we hug the legs, the pelvis rotates and our spine moves into this flexion position. This opens up the narrowed spaces in the spine and allows the compressed nerves to “breathe” for a while, relieving symptoms effectively.

Best Spinal Stenosis Exercise #2: Flexion in Sitting

lumbar flexion in sitting is one of the best spinal stenosis exercises

Why this is one of the best spinal stenosis exercises:

This is a fantastic spinal stenosis exercise to do from a chair. Again, by bending forward, you’ll open up the spaces in the spine where the nerves run through and allow them more freedom to move. This exercise is fantastic at relieving back pain as well.

I give this exercise to all my clients with spinal stenosis as a rapid relief position they can get into if their pain suddenly comes on or worsens and they see somewhere convenient to sit down.

Best Spinal Stenosis Exercise #3: The Gluteal Stretch

the seated gluteal stretch is one of the best spinal stenosis exercises

Why this is one of the best spinal stenosis exercises:

This exercise is more of a stretch than a spinal exercise, but it stretches a muscle group closely related to the spine called the “gluteals”. These muscles often get tight in people with spinal stenosis and can pull the spine into a more compromised position.

Best Spinal Stenosis Exercise #4: The Hip Flexor Stretch

the hip flexor stretch is one of the best spinal stenosis exercises

Why this is one of the best spinal stenosis exercises:

In many people with spinal stenosis, their posture has something called an “anterior pelvic tilt”. This is a position of the pelvis where the pelvic bowl tilts forwards. This is actually a poor position for someone with spinal stenosis to be in; it increases extension in the spine and will make their pain worse.

If you have an anterior pelvic tilt, it’s likely that your hip flexors will be tight. By stretching the hip flexors with the exercise shown above, we can reduce that anterior pelvic tilt and take some more pressure off the spine.

A Sample Exercise Program Including the Best Spinal Stenosis Exercises:

The following is a typical exercise program I might prescribe for someone with spinal stenosis. Bear in mind that what I find on my assessment dictates which exercises I might prescribe; so some of these exercises may not be suitable for you. Always get an assessment from a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise programme.

The following is not to be taken as a prescription; rather, it is just to give an example of a programme that has worked for my clients in the past with spinal stenosis.

The Program:

  • Knee Hugs: 10 repetitions on each side; morning, afternoon and evening
  • Gluteal Stretch: 30-second hold x 2 each side; morning and evening
  • Hip Flexor Stretch: 30-second hold x 3 each side; morning and evening
  • Flexion in Sitting: 5 slow repetitions; morning, afternoon, evening and whenever in pain

Other than the Best Spinal Stenosis Exercises, What Else Might Help?

There are also certain tips and products that can help individuals, alongside exercises for spinal stenosis.

Here are some of my top tips:

#1 – Reduce Walking Distance (Or Take Regular Breaks)

Walking upright for extended periods of time can aggravate the symptoms of spinal stenosis and cause increased pain, no matter how many exercises for spinal stenosis you include in your routine.

My advice: Try to build in regular breaks into walks. If you know there is a bench on your usual route, make an effort to stop and sit there for a while, even if you don’t feel you need to at the time.

Another tip that can help is to make an effort to rest on your haunches by leaning forward when the spinal stenosis symptoms start.

While not strictly an exercise for spinal stenosis in and of itself, this simple step can help to increase the space that the nerves sit in, allowing them to “breathe” in that space better and relieving symptoms as a result.

#2 – Try a TENS Machine

Many of my patients with spinal stenosis find that a TENS machine can help to relieve their symptoms, when used alongside exercises for spinal stenosis.

A TENS machine works by sending a small electrical signal into the muscles of the back, providing pain relief in many cases and loosening tight muscles.

Below are 3 of my top recommended TENS machines:

TENSCare Perfect TENS Pain Relief Machine

TENS machines can also help the symptoms of spinal stenosis

This TENS machine for sciatica has 8 preset programs so you don’t need to “tune it” yourself – just pick a setting and off you go! There is an option to purchase a ‘Value Pack’ which includes spare pads which I would definitely recommend.

Click HERE to view the TENSCare Perfect TENS Pain Relief Machine on Amazon US (closest match)

Click HERE to view the TENSCare Perfect TENS Pain Relief Machine on Amazon UK

SHANGPS TENS Machine for Pain Relief

TENS machines can help spinal stenosis

The SHANGPS design has revolutionised the way TENS machines are used for sciatica – meaning you can now get effective pain relief on the go. With its discrete design, you can easily conceal this under clothing and continue with your day to day tasks without having to stop and sit down to use a TENS machine for sciatica pain relief. Purchase with spare pads for the best value for money.

Click HERE to view the SHANGPS TENS Machine on Amazon

TPN 200 Plus TENS Machine

A super-simple yet sleek design, this TENS machine is perfect for those who want a highly effective model and are confident with using a TENS machine for sciatica pain relief. This unit doesn’t have a fancy display, so you can customize the settings to best suit your needs, tweaking and changing the frequency until you find one that works best for you.

Click HERE to view the TPN 200 Plus TENS Machine on Amazon US (closest match)

Click HERE to view the TPN 200 Plus TENS Machine on Amazon UK

You can also find an entire post I wrote showing you the best TENS machines on the market at the moment by clicking HERE.

#3 – Use a Muscle Rub

Creams for sciatica pain can help some people to experience relief and they are handy to carry around to use when walking, if the exercises for spinal stenosis can’t shift the pain.

Here is the top cream we recommend for people suffering from spinal stenosis:

Voltarol can help spinal stenosisClick HERE to view Voltarol cream for sciatica pain relief Amazon US

Click HERE to view Voltarol cream for sciatica pain relief Amazon UK

This product contains an anti-inflammatory that helps to calm any inflammation around the affected nerve root when someone is suffering from sciatica.

What’s more, it also contains a natural product that will help to relax hyper-tense muscles and reduce pain, as well as provide a soothing effect to the area. For this reason, I would place it as my go-to and best cream for spinal stenosis pain relief.

FourFive CBD Muscle Rub

Click HERE to view this cream for sciatica pain relief on Amazon UK

I was never convinced by the CBD craze when it all began, but I am starting to see more compelling evidence for its use in some people, in some cases.

While I don’t believe CBD to be “magic”, I do feel this product has potential to relieve some of the muscle pain experienced in the lower back for many people with spinal stenosis.

That is why this product makes it onto the list of the best creams for sciatica pain relief. Check out the reviews of this product – they are really outstanding, with a perfect 5-star rating.

#4 – Try to Improve Your General Health

If you’re struggling with your mobility due to spinal stenosis, one thing that might help is to address other general health issues like your weight, your diet and your general exercise.

If you’d like some tips on how to improve all of those aspects of your health, stave off injury and treat problems like arthritis, why not grab a copy of my brand new book, Thriving Beyond Fifty? You can see more details below:

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Hopefully, my list of the best spinal stenosis exercises will give you a great idea of some of the positions and exercises you can try to relieve the pain that spinal stenosis can cause.

Have you found any exercises for spinal stenosis that have helped you? Let us know in the comments below!

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The information on Overcome Sciatica should never be used as a substitute for medical advice from a doctor. Never put into action any tips or techniques from Overcome Sciatica without checking with your doctor first. Please see full terms of use here.

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