Spinal Canal Stenosis

November 12, 2012

Spinal Canal Stenosis

The spine is made up of bone with a hole in the centre called vertebrae, which stack up on top of each other forming what is known as the spinal canal where the holes line up. The canal protects the spinal cords and nerves that are vital for connecting the brain to the rest of the body. Sometimes, often due to wear and tear caused either by aging or osteoarthritis, the spinal canal can start to narrow. When this occurs it is known as spinal canal stenosis, which as it gets worse can cause pressure on the spinal cord leading to a number of symptoms.

The first symptoms

Older individuals are most likely to develop spinal canal stenosis as their bones naturally deteriorate. Patients suffering from a mild form of the condition may not experience any symptoms but as it develops the individual will begin to have some lower back pain and stiffness. If the spinal cord becomes compressed symptoms may develop to include pins and needles, numbing sensations and weakness in the lower back, legs and feet. In most cases, pain and other symptoms will increase during repetitive activity, especially anything that requires continuous straightening or extension of the spine as well as anything that puts additional weight on the spine such as lifting or walking. When the spine is slightly spent such as in a sitting position, patients often report that the symptoms are somewhat eased. Although a doctor may suspect spinal canal stenosis based on symptoms, an x-ray, CT scan or MRI is often required in order to confirm the diagnosis.

Prevent the symptoms from worsening

Treatment cannot reverse the effects of spinal canal stenosis, but physiotherapy is an effective way of managing the condition and can be used to allow patients to remain active through learning about the activities that are appropriate for them to continue doing. The aim of physiotherapy is to allow the patient to be as physically active as possible without aggravating their symptoms. This way they are able to strengthen the spine and maintain mobility whilst at the same time avoiding further deterioration of the spine. One way in which to this is to break up activities that aggravate symptoms such as walking, with activities that do not, such as sitting. Patients must learn how to balance these activities in order to prevent the symptoms from worsening.


In order to maintain general fitness, it is important for the patient to continue with alternative exercises. These exercises as well as any other fitness activities should be designed for each individual by their physiotherapist. Such exercises may include cycling on a stationary bike or hydrotherapy exercises. It is essential for patients to maintain a strong core as well as flexibility. The patient’s physiotherapist can advise all exercises and at no point should they cause any discomfort. If symptoms arise during exercise or seem to be worse afterwards, immediately stop what you are doing and report the situation to your physiotherapist who will be able to alter or suggest a different exercise. Physiotherapy can incorporate a whole range of methods including soft tissue massage, electrotherapy, education, hydrotherapy, mobilisation and flexibility, core and strengthening exercises. In more severe cases of spinal canal stenosis, physiotherapy may not be adequate and in some cases surgery may be required.

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