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Spinal stenosis and sciatica

Spinal stenosis and sciatica

Spinal stenosis

Lumbar spinal stenosis is a condition that causes compression of the nerves in the spine and occurs when the holes that nerves pass through within the spinal bones narrow leading to constriction of spinal nerves and sometimes the spinal cord. In previous blogs we have talked about different conditions that can lead to sciatica symptoms and spinal stenosis is one of them.

Lumbar spinal stenosis means the constriction is occurring in the lower back region and cervical spinal stenosis means the constriction is occurring in the neck region. It is lumbar spinal stenosis that can lead to sciatica type symptoms with pain in the lower back and legs. With lumbar stenosis pain is often accompanied with numbness and weakness in the legs. Typically walking exacerbates symptoms.

Spinal stenosis is quite common in older people and usually as a result of degenerative changes as we age. The most common cause for acquired spinal stenosis is osteoarthritis. Other risk factors are scoliosis, which is a side ways curvature of the spine, injury or previous surgery to the spine and excess calcium or fluoride in the body.

The most common cause for sciatica symptoms is for nerve root irritation at the base of the spine caused by the herniation or bulging of a vertebral disk. This combined with the gap between the vertebrae (spinal bones) tending to narrow as we get older giving less space for nerves coming out of the spine may give rise to sciatica. Hence sciatica symptoms from ‘classic’ sciatica and lumbar stenosis are similar in origin but not exactly the same.

Spinal stenosis –  Imaging is never the full story

It is possible to have the physical aspects of lumbar spinal stenosis and a bulging disc and experience no symptoms. The picture from an MRI scan or X-Ray is not the full story. As previously stated these physical changes are more likely as we get older and the vast majority that do experience symptoms will successfully manage them conservatively. A minority do require healthcare professional intervention if symptoms become debilitating.

A primary method of managing lumbar spinal stenosis is through physical activity. Being physically active (sometimes called exerciseJ) helps to keep your body strong, improve balance, flexibility and mobility. We also know that it improves your mood too.

Stretching is good for you and there are some specific stretches that may be more beneficial for lumbar spinal stenosis. It is best to get a physiotherapist to prescribe physical activity these you. You can visit the NHS website that has a video Exercises for sciatica : spinal stenosis to increase your knowledge and reinforce advice given.

NHS – sciatica-spinal-stenosis exercise video’s


  1. Marlene Monk on August 20, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    I have spinal stenosis. The pain is awful I literally cannot do anything, the pain is extreme. I have spondylitis of the spine neck and ostropaenia. Been to see surgeon but the waiting list for surgery is frightening. I have been worse for months and months. I don’t cope with drugs get horrendous side affects. Really cannot get about and am very depressed. I need to understand what and how I can help myself as just doing nothing and taking paracetamol is not helping me. I want to be able to walk about, I cannot do anything because of pain. Would a walking treadmill help or physio as I am desperate, had spondylitis for over forty years but this stenosis is the worst pain ever, it affects my leg, get tightening and cramp

    • SPRC on August 29, 2021 at 5:49 pm

      Dear Marlene,
      The idea of getting help from a physio is a good one. A physio that has a good appreciation of the methodologies for working with chronic pain would be best. After experiencing pain for so long the methods you need to use need to take account of that. Physical activity is a great start and it is good that you want to get moving. An expert in physical movement will guide you through the journey of what is best to do and help calibrate the levels of activity by working with you. Best wishes.

  2. Michelle on September 21, 2020 at 3:35 pm

    I have lumbar stenosis with relentless sciatica made worse ( as mentioned) by walking. I loved walking 3.7 miles a day but now if I make one – I am very lucky ( with a couple opportunities to sit down along the way to take the
    pressure off nerves.) What I found very helpful were the exercises targeted to opening up the spine. As much
    as I hate to do them – I feel so much better when I’m done. NSAIDS don’t help me anymore and my Doc
    refuses to give me anything else. SO.. I strongly advise these stretching exercises – even going to physical
    therapy to learn to do them properly, if you can. I agree, though.. Keeping active IS the key……. Keep moving,
    don’t sit down for very long – and don’t forget those Omega 3 foods!!!

    • SPRC on September 21, 2020 at 4:47 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience Michelle.

  3. BO on August 11, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    This blog is older but will comment anyway.I have foraminal spinal stenosis. I found this site because I am looking for shoes specifically for people w/ sciatica. Not finding much in that way.)
    That said, reading what Lisa posted- nice to know. I am(er was) a horse rider as well however, as this progresses, I ride less and less. I am going to look into the Stuebben saddle.

    Anyway, wondering if the sciatic pain relief cushion will have the same affect on someone with lumbar foraminal spinal stenosis?

    • SPRC on August 12, 2020 at 12:37 pm

      Hello Beth,
      Glad you picked something up useful with regard to the saddle. In terms of whether the cushion will be helpful for someone with foraminal spinal stenosis it will really depend on what the main trigger for the symptoms are. I am sure you have a lot of experience of managing your stenosis and will have certain things make your symptoms worse. If sitting can be a trigger for your symptoms then no matter what the root cause of the symptom whether it is nerve root irritation from disk herniation, stenosis or trapped in soft tissue in the deep gluteal area there is a good chance sciatic pain relief cushion will be helpful.
      Hope that helps.

  4. Lisa Graziano on October 24, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    It may sound odd but the best relief I have found is by horseback riding. Just walking in arena or on trails builds up multiple back muscles as well as hip and leg strength. There is a special saddle made for people with back issues. Stuebben saddles have a biomex seat that relieves pressure from the spine by creating a channel in the seat
    This is not for everyone but perhaps will help riders who have given up a chance to enjoy a ride in the park or countryside. .

    • SPRC on November 18, 2019 at 9:47 am

      Horseback riding is certainly counterintuitive for relief from sciatica and back pain. Being cautiously active is the main thing and if it works for you Lisa that’s great. Thanks for taking time to share.

  5. Patricia Brown on October 7, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Enjoy swimming, but find it difficult to walk from changing rooms to pool. Scared of slipping on wet floor. Stick doesn’t help as inclined to slip on wet floor.

    • SPRC on October 7, 2019 at 2:10 pm

      Hi Patricia,
      Perhaps you could try some of the non-slip shoes that you can get to use in and around pools. You may need some help getting them on mind you as they can be fairly tight. Keep active!:-)

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