Spinal stenosis is medical condition that affects the back. It usually affects adults above the age of 50 years. Spinal stenosis is characterised by narrowing of the spinal canal leading to back pain and extreme discomfort. This may also affect physical activities and limit activities of daily living. The spine is made up of a series of smaller bones that are stacked over each other. These are known as vertebrae. There are discs between the vertebrae which act as shock absorbing discs and provide support to the back. The spinal cord runs in the spinal canal formed by the vertebral bones and shock absorbing discs placed upon each other. In spinal stenosis, there is narrowing of the spinal canal due to displacement or rupture of the discs. This may also lead to impingement of the nerves that comes out through this area due to compression. This in turn can lead to pain, numbness and discomfort over the back and other areas supplied by the affected nerve.
Most people affected by spinal stenosis lead a normal life. There is no specific cure for spinal stenosis; however, the affected individual may consider certain non-surgical treatment modality and exercises for management of the symptoms.
Is Walking Good for Spinal Stenosis?
Patients with spinal stenosis with recurrent episodes of backache can consider walking for improving the symptoms. Walking is a form of aerobic, low impact form of exercise with many health benefits. Walking is a single form of exercise with combination of benefits such as improvement in range of motion, muscle strengthening, improving endurance and improving overall stability.
Advantage of regular routine walking is listed below:
- Muscle Strengthening: Regular walking over a period of time improves spinal stability and support in addition to strengthening of the muscles of the hips, torso and lower limbs. This in turn helps is maintaining an upright position and reduces the stress and strain over the back. Upright position also helps in opening up the intervertebral spaces and it thus reduces nerve compression.
- Walking provides Nourishment to the Spinal Structures: Regular walking improves circulation and increases blood supply to the area. This in turn leads to pumping of nutrients into the soft tissues in this area and it also helps in draining out the harmful toxins.
- Walking Improves Flexibility and Overall Posture: As mentioned above, walking helps in maintaining an upright position. Besides this, walking provides stretching which improves the range of motion and flexibility. This assists in carrying out activities of daily living with an ease and also reduces susceptibility of future injuries.
- Walking Strengthens Bones and Prevents Loss of Bone Density: Walking helps in strengthening the bones which in turn reduces the risk of developing conditions such as osteoarthritis.
- Walking Aids in Weight Loss: Walking also assists in weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. This reduces excessive weight strain over the spine and thus helps in reducing the symptoms of spinal stenosis.
- Walking as a De-stressing Exercise: Walking helps in maintaining emotional and mental well-being which is very important while fighting any kind of health issues. It acts as a de-stressing activity and this can be enhanced by listening to music while walking or by walking with a partner.
Walking is a suitable choice of exercise in case of spinal stenosis as it is a low impact form of exercise and the pace of walking can be easily controlled as needed. It does not need any specialized equipment, and one can go walking anytime (perhaps on their lunch break, post dinner, post work etc.). If walking outdoor has limitation, one can consider walking over a treadmill. In some cases, walking may aggravate the pain. In such cases, water therapy/pool therapy such as aqua jogging can be considered. It is a specialized walking exercise done under water. The advantage of this kind of exercise over conventional walking is that, this allows the body's buoyancy to reduce the compression over the lower back, thus increasing the threshold for pain free movement.
It is advised to consult a doctor or a physical therapist before introducing walking or any other form of exercising as routine activities in case of existing back issues. In some cases, walking may not be advisable as it may worsen the condition. Care should be taken to wear appropriate footwear while walking, as wearing inappropriate footwear can lead to worsening of the condition. If walking leads to amplification of the pain and other symptoms, it should be discontinued immediately and a medical advice should be taken from a professional at the earliest.