Spinal Stenosis Exercise Program

A spinal stenosis exercise program focuses on changing the position of your spine to help take the pressure off of the spinal nerves. This can help decrease your pain and improve your overall mobility.

This article describes a step-by-step spinal stenosis exercise program similar to one that your physical therapist may prescribe. It focuses on restoring normal mobility to your spine.

Before starting any spinal stenosis exercise program, check with your healthcare provider to be sure that the exercises are safe for your specific condition.

1

Sustained Lumbar Extension

Yoga in Natural Light Studio
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Some people with spinal stenosis may benefit from bending backward. It is theorized that this position gently presses against the soft lumbar discs and nudges them away from your spinal canal. This can help give your lumbar nerves a little more room.

To perform the sustained lumbar extension exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Support your back and bend backward.
  3. Hold the position for about 60 seconds.

This position may cause an increase in your back pain, as well as leg pain or tingling. If these symptoms subside within 60 seconds, this exercise can be added to your lumbar spinal stenosis home program.

If sustained lumbar extension causes an increase in your symptoms that does not resolve within 60 seconds or so, it should be eliminated from your home exercise program.

2

Lumbar Flexion in Lying

Woman doing low back flexion

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To start your spinal stenosis lumbar flexion exercise progression, perform the flexion in lying exercise. To perform this exercise:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  2. Slowly bring your knees up to your chest, and grab onto them with your hands.
  3. Hold this balled-up position for 2 seconds.
  4. Release your knees back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 10 times before moving on to another exercise.
3

Seated Lumbar Flexion

Seated lumbar flexion.

Brent Sears

To perform the seated lumbar flexion:

  1. Sit in a firm chair with both feet on the floor.
  2. Slowly bend yourself forward and reach towards the floor.
  3. Hold the fully bent position for 2 seconds. If you need to deepen the stretch, grasp your ankles and give a gentle tug.
  4. After holding the position for 2 seconds, release and return to the full, upright seated position.
  5. Repeat 10 times and then move on to the next exercise.
4

Standing Lumbar Flexion

Jogger Touching Her Toes
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Standing lumbar flexion is a great exercise for individuals with spinal stenosis. To do the exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet apart.
  2. Slowly bend yourself forward, reaching towards the floor.
  3. When you are fully bent, hold for 2 to 3 seconds.
  4. Slowly return to the upright standing position.
  5. Repeat the exercise 10 times.

This exercise can be used to help reduce back pain, as well as leg pain or tingling that may come on while you are out for a walk.

5

Hip and Core Strengthening

Photo of the ball bridge.

Brett Sears

If you have spinal stenosis, core strengthening exercises can help improve the way the muscles that support your spine work.

The posterior pelvic tilt is a great exercise that works your abdominal and hip muscles while flexing your spine.

To do the pelvic tilt:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  2. Slowly roll your pelvis backward as if you were flattening out your spine. Hold this position for 3 seconds.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Sometimes, hip strengthening may be in order to help you improve your walking ability. For example, you could start with basic straight leg raises and then move on to advanced hip strengthening exercises. Your physical therapist can help you decide which exercises are best for your specific condition.

6

Aerobic Exercise

Photo of active older couple riding bicycles.
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Lumbar spinal stenosis is a progressive condition that comes on gradually. With worsening symptoms, you may decrease your aerobic activity level.

Work with your healthcare provider to manage your spinal stenosis symptoms so you can start to incorporate aerobic exercise into your routine, such as:

  • Walking, which is an effective intervention for those experiencing back pain
  • Biking, which places your spine in a stenosis-friendly flexed position and is an appropriate alternative if your symptoms prevent you from walking any distance

A Word From Verywell

If you have lumbar spinal stenosis, exercise may be used to treat your symptoms and help prevent the progression of the condition. Visit your physical therapist to learn exercises specific to your condition, so you can start your lumbar spinal stenosis home exercise program as soon as possible.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Rheumatology. Spinal stenosis.

  2. Stewart DM, Gregory DE. The use of intermittent trunk flexion to alleviate low back pain during prolonged standing. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2016;27:46-51. doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2016.01.007

  3. Chen C, Lin Z, Zhang Y, Chen Z, Tang S. Does the effectiveness of core stability exercises correlate with the severity of spinal stenosis in patients with lumbar spinal stenosis?. Pak J Med Sci. 2017;33(3):631-634. doi:10.12669/pjms.333.12123

  4. Vanti C, Andreatta S, Borghi S, Guccione AA, Pillastrini P, Bertozzi L. The effectiveness of walking versus exercise on pain and function in chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Disabil Rehabil. 2019;41(6):622-632. doi:10.1080/09638288.2017.1410730

  5. Pauwels C, Roren A, Gautier A, et al. Home-based cycling program tailored to older people with lumbar spinal stenosis: Barriers and facilitatorsAnnals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. 2018;61(3):144-150. doi:10.1016/j.rehab.2018.02.005

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.