4 Things to Stop Doing If You Have Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

A lumbar spinal stenosis is a painful narrowing of the spaces in the spinal canal. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, you may be waiting and hoping it will go away. You may be doing exercises without knowing if you are doing enough or the right kind. Finally, you may be wondering if you should have surgery to fix the problem.

This article looks at what you should stop doing if you have lumbar spinal stenosis. It also explores some non-surgical ways to relieve pain and strengthen your spine.

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Living With Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

If you have lumbar spinal stenosis, your healthcare provider has probably talked about things you can do to relieve your back and leg pain and make it easier to walk.

A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve your range of motion (ROM) and strength. They can also show you how to change your posture to help ease your symptoms. You may already be trying some of these exercises.

Even so, learning what you should not do is often as important as learning what you should do.

1. Stop Waiting for It To Go Away

You may be waiting and hoping your symptoms will just go away. But lumbar spinal stenosis is different from many other causes of back pain. It is a progressive condition that often gets worse if you do nothing.

"Progressive" doesn't mean there is nothing you can do. Exercising can help you move more freely. It can also decrease back and leg pain. Working to improve your strength and range of motion can help you walk better with less pain.

Taking an active role in your care is one of the best ways to manage your condition.

2. Stop Treating Only the Inflammation

Spinal stenosis is caused by a narrowing of your spinal canal. This narrowing can irritate the nerves that travel down your legs. Symptoms are typically worse when you walk. They often get better when you sit down or bend forward.

With this condition, your spinal nerves can become inflamed and irritated. Taking anti-inflammatory medication can bring you some short-term relief.

Relying on anti-inflammatory medication can worsen symptoms. In the long run, anti-inflammatories may limit your ability to move. You will need other therapies to strengthen muscles and prevent more damage.

To treat your condition, you must change the biomechanics of your spine—the way your spine moves. You can do this by exercising and correcting your posture.

3. Stop Doing Only Flexion Exercises

In the past, many specialists prescribed only flexion exercises for people with spinal stenosis. Flexion exercises bend the spine forward. Why? Bending forward increases the diameter of your spinal canal. Creating more space in your spinal canal takes pressure off the nerves in your spine.

Today, it is more common to include exercises that allow you to bend backward, too. One such movement is called a sustained standing lumbar extension. This exercise gently presses against your spinal discs, moving them away from your spinal canal and nerves to give them more room.

Talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist to find out if spinal extension exercises may help you. They can show you how to do these exercises safely.

4. Stop Wondering if Surgery Is the Only Option

Your healthcare provider may have talked to you about treatment options. You may have discussed a spinal surgery called a lumbar laminectomy.

But for some people, non-invasive treatment and surgery have similar long-term outcomes for lumbar spinal stenosis. For example, for some people, epidural steroid injections, in which medication is injected into your spine, can be a good treatment option.

A 2017 review published in the International Journal of Surgery confirmed that surgery and non-surgical approaches, such as physical therapy, can be effective.

Surgery can sound like an intimidating option, but it may be the best option in some situations. The right treatment for you depends on many factors—the severity of your spinal stenosis, which levels and how many levels of your spine are affected, your age, your overall health, and whether you are prepared to participate in post-operative rehabilitation.


Lumbar spinal stenosis is a progressive condition. If you don't take any action, it is likely to get worse over time.

Instead of waiting and hoping your lower back will improve, you can talk to a physical therapist or another healthcare provider about different exercises you can do to build up your strength.

While anti-inflammatory medications may ease symptoms, in the long run you may be better off changing your posture and the way you move.

Surgery is a good option for some people with lumbar spinal stenosis. But, for some people, physical therapy can often achieve good results with fewer risks.

A Word From Verywell

If you are living with lumbar spinal stenosis, the discomfort and difficulty walking can be hard to bear. It is normal to want relief right away. While physical therapy usually isn't a quick fix, it can bring lasting results if you're doing the right exercises for your condition.

6 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.
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  4. Waqqar S, Shakil-Ur-Rehman S, Ahmad S. McKenzie treatment versus Mulligan sustained natural apophyseal glides for chronic mechanical low back pain. Pak J Med Sci. 2016;32(2):476-479. doi:10.12669/pjms.322.9127

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