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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. 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.

  2. 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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