Video Series: Exercises for Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

3 easy low back exercises that may help reduce pain related to lumbar spinal stenosis and nerve compression.

What exercises help relieve lumbar spinal stenosis?

Lumbar spinal stenosis—a narrowing of the nerve passageways in your low back—causes pain from your lumbar spine down to your buttocks and legs. When your lower body feels weak and in pain, staying active is the last thing on your mind. But gentle stretching and exercise are among your greatest allies, as they strengthen your spine and make it less susceptible to spinal stenosis symptoms.

It’s also important to consider that a sedentary lifestyle—using rest to heal your pain—may actually worsen your lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms.

Exercising with lumbar spinal stenosis shouldn’t be stressful or painful. Simple stretches like the 3 demonstrated in the videos above—pelvic tilt, knee to chest, and lower trunk rotation—can easily be incorporated into your daily routine to boost your overall spine health.

Pelvic Tilt

Purpose: To strengthen your lower abdominal muscles and stretch your low back.

How to perform a pelvic tilt:

  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles while you push your belly button toward the floor and flatten your low back.
  3. Hold the position for 5 seconds.
  4. Repeat 10 times, holding the position for 5 seconds each time.

How can I tell if I’m doing the pelvic tilt right?

  • With the same hand, place your pinky finger on your hip bone and thumb on your lowest rib.
  • As you squeeze your abdominal muscles, the space between your pinky finger and thumb should get smaller.

Pelvic tilts can help you gently stretch your low backPelvic tilts can help you gently stretch your low back. Photo Source:

Knee to Chest

Purpose: To reduce pressure on the nerves in your low back and relieve back pain.

How to perform a knee to chest stretch:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Bring your knee toward your chest.
  3. Using your hands, gently pull your leg in until you feel a comfortable stretch.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds, then place your leg to the floor.
  5. Repeat with the other leg and hold for 10 seconds.
  6. Repeat on each leg 3 to 5 times.
  7. Hold both legs together in the stretched positions for 10 seconds.
  8. Repeat with both legs 3 to 5 times.

Alternating knee to chest stretches, picture illustration.Alternating knee to chest stretches may help reduce low back pain. Photo Source:

Lower Trunk Rotation

Purpose: To increase your spine’s mobility and flexibility.

How to perform a lower trunk rotation:

  1. Lie on your back in the hook lying position (with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor).
  2. While contracting your abdominal muscles, rotate your knees to one side.
  3. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. (You will feel a gentle stretching in your lower back and hips.)
  4. Contracting your abdominal muscles, rotate your knees to the other side.
  5. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
  6. Repeat up to 10 times on both sides.

Lower trunk rotation picture illustration.Modified version of the lower trunk rotation demonstrated in the video. Photo Source:

How do these stretches reduce lumbar spinal stenosis pain?

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space surrounding your spinal cord and nerve roots, so these exercises are designed to open that space. These 3 gentle stretches promote strength, flexibility, and range of motion throughout your low back—this trifecta helps relieve pressure on your lumbar spinal nerves.

Spine specialists generally recommend people with lumbar spinal stenosis do flexion exercises and stretches—activities that round your back. While extension exercises (where you arch your back) are beneficial for certain types of spinal pain, your doctor may ask you to avoid those types of exercises because they may aggravate your spinal stenosis by pinching your spinal nerves.

Can exercising with lumbar spinal stenosis hurt me?

Exercise can be an important and effective part of any lumbar spinal stenosis treatment plan—but it has to be done the right way. Below are 3 tips to ensure your activity plan does more good than harm.

  • Get your doctor’s approval before starting any new exercise. These 3 lumbar spinal stenosis stretches are generally safe, but you should still get your doctor’s permission before engaging in them or any new activity. When you have a spine disorder like spinal stenosis, it’s important your doctor knows about the sports and exercises you’re doing to help you understand the associated risks and benefits to you.
  • Redefine what exercise means. You don’t need to lift heavy weights or run 10 miles to get the benefit of exercise when you have lumbar spinal stenosis. Your spine responds well to gentle, consistent stretching and exercise. Focus on proper form and take things at your own pace.
  • Pay attention to how you feel. As you engage different spinal muscles, you may feel slight soreness throughout your body—but exercise should not hurt. If you experience any new symptoms, or if your pain worsens during or immediately after exercising, call your spine specialist. He or she will determine what’s causing your pain.

Continue Learning About Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Exercises

Just the thought of exercising with lumbar spinal stenosis is enough to spark pain, but staying active keeps your low back strong, flexible, and mobile. A strong spine is better at warding off degeneration and pain, and simply incorporating these 3 lumbar spinal stenosis stretches into your daily routine may make a difference.

If you’re looking to add to your exercise regimen—and if your doctor has given you the green light—walking and swimming are both excellent exercises for lumbar spinal stenosis. You can even combine both activities by doing water walking. Explore more about the benefits of exercising with lumbar spinal stenosis and get ideas to stay active in Exercises for Spinal Stenosis.

Continue ReadingLumbar Spinal Stenosis Causes, Symptoms, Treatments