The Curious Case of Spinal Stenosis

A funny thing happened to me while I was attending my first dress fitting. Through various underwear trials and climbing my way through several layers of tulle and finally out of the dressing room door. I am met with the head seamstress and her assistant. The head seamstress appears not to be bothered with meeting me upon my exit, but quickly explains the reason why she is hesitant to stand up and greet me. Apparently the culprit was Stenosis. The eager student in me wanted to conduct a patient interview IMMEDIATELY (student issues)! Thankfully there was another little voice in my head that quickly intervened. Instead I told her, I’m finishing up my doctoral degree in Physical Therapy, to me her behavior was not rude…it was time she needed to respect her body. Obviously telling her I was a PT student (which you’d think would make people run) was a bad idea. She then began flooding me questions about managing her back pain. She told me about her difficulty getting in and out of bed, difficulty standing for long periods during her day, difficulty carrying out her gym routine and proceeded to demonstrate the exercises she performed at the gym. Most of the things she was explaining to me didn't fit into my educational guidelines for proper spinal stenosis management. The exercises that she was doing; long sitting from supine (lying flat on her back), prone press ups and planks that shouldn't have been considered planks. I knew were bad news. I promptly and politely asked her to please stop demonstrating EVERYTHING and suggested she go see a good physical therapist. IMMEDIATELY. But before that please help me get out of this dress.

First of all what is spinal stenosis officially…

The Mayo Clinic defines spinal stenosis as a narrowing of the open spaces of the spine. This narrowing more frequently occurs in the cervical (neck) or the lumbar (lower back) areas of the spine. The symptoms of spinal stenosis can range from concentrated achiness to pain, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling going down the leg and in some cases bowel and bladder issues. Stenosis is often diagnosed through a series of imaging (MRI, X-Rays or CT Scans) and physical examination. Objects that could be causing these symptoms range from bone spurs, an old disc herniation among other things. This condition most often afflicts individuals over the age 50 and individuals with previous spinal injury.

Secondly, what can we do about it?

Lucky for us Physical Therapy is the answer. Through a variety of APPROPRIATE exercises, manual therapy, education, posture management and even the occasional physical therapy modalities were shown to improve pain, function and quality of life. This is WITHOUT SURGERY!!! These findings were applied to individuals who were found to have mild to moderate spinal stenosis. Individuals suffering from severe spinal stenosis are encouraged to give a conservative (cough, PHYSICAL THERAPY) a try before they decide to consider surgical intervention.

While I can’t imagine you finding yourself in a similar dressing room predicament, but if YOU DO, remember that physical therapy and good movement are the answer.

Take it from this bro…



2. Macedo L, Hhum A, Kuleba L, et al. Physical Therapy Interventions for Degenerative Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: A Systematic Review. PHYS THER. 93(12). 2013. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20120379.