How to play sports with spinal stenosis?

Back pain can make any type of physical activity almost unbearable. Whenever back pain becomes severely intensified, our first instinct is to rest. Although not a bad idea, it backfires at some point. It is advisable to know the origin of the pain. Next we discuss cervical spinal stenosis.

In cases of spinal stenosis exercises, there is often a fine line between good activity and bad activity, but where a good movement can greatly improve strength and stability, a bad movement can lead to more pain and even surgery. It is important to differentiate between the two.

What is?

Spinal stenosis simply means narrowing of the spinal canal and the areas where nerves exit the spine. The word “stenosis” means narrowing. That’s why on most MRIs, we see the word “stenosis” or “stenotic changes” on the report. If there are spaces in the spine that are narrowed beyond what we would consider “normal,” the radiologist will use the term stenosis.

However, that does not necessarily mean that we have “true” spinal stenosis, which is classified by the presence of the following two symptoms:

  • Back pain that worsens with walking and standing, but goes away when we sit or lie down.2
  • Neurogenic claudication: A term to describe a dull, throbbing pain in the lower legs that continues to worsen with walking and standing, but goes away when we sit down.

True spinal stenosis is caused by a generalized narrowing of the spaces in the spine through which the nerves pass. It is rare for anyone under the age of 50 to suffer from true spinal stenosis.


Common symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis are:

  • Neck Pain
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • A feeling of electrical charge or tingling sensation that shoots up your back when you move your head
  • Numbness in the arms or hands
  • Some weakness in the legs or feet, which can create some problems with walking and balance

prohibited exercises

There are some exercises and movements not recommended with spinal stenosis. It is convenient to take them into account so as not to worsen the cervical injury.

Excessive back extension

One of the most common stretches we tend to perform after a long period of time sitting or slouching is the standing back extension, or more accurately, the standing lumbar extension. It involves standing up straight, putting your hands on your hips and leaning back as far as you can. In some cases, this type of compression on the back of the vertebrae can help make room for the spinal cord by pushing out some of the swollen tissue.

However, in most cases, it causes worse symptoms and more pain. If we tend to experience more pain and numbness after a back extension, we will try to avoid that stretch and, more importantly, we will try to avoid any activity that causes the back to be overextended, meaning anything that requires Let’s lean back. Increased compression can worsen swelling.

walk a lot or run

Some exercises for spinal stenosis are important, but too many, or the wrong kind, can be detrimental to your pain. While jogging and running are generally considered “easy” exercises and are associated with low or light impact, jogging and running generally qualify as high impact exercises, especially if we don’t have access to a soft or clay trail, but instead, look forced to run on the pavement.

Repeated trauma to the knees and spine is less than ideal. On the other hand, walking for long periods of time, or long distances, can also exacerbate back pain. We will consider starting with shorter, more tolerable distances, and make modest increases in pace and distance without starting jogging.

Certain stretches and poses

The back extension mentioned above exists in a variety of common poses and spinal stenosis exercises, including the cobra, the bridge, most lower back exercises that involve hyperextension (such as the Superman), and more. .

While it’s a good idea to strengthen your lower back muscles, it’s much better to avoid flexing or extending your spine when doing this. Instead, we’ll look for isometric exercises that revolve around stabilizing the back and keeping it stiff against an external force.

rounded back

Free weights can be of great help for someone with back pain, as long as we train with a professional and have received prior authorization from the doctor. Certain exercises can greatly strengthen the muscles that support your spine and make it easier to maintain a healthier posture in a variety of activities and positions. Free weight exercises can also help address one-sided imbalances in the body, such as uneven strength in the legs, hips, shoulders, and arms, which can translate to more back pain.

But when performed incorrectly, free weight exercises can easily lead to injury. An example of this is any exercise that requires the hip joint, from bent over rows and flies to deadlifts. Any rounding in the back can greatly destabilize the muscles around the spine and cause shear forces to impact the spine and affect the discs.

resting too much in bed

It’s tempting to lie in bed whenever possible, but resting in bed too much will only serve to atrophy your muscles and put more pressure on your back and contribute to inflammation.

Staying active can help reduce pain and improve quality of life, at the cost of a few minutes a day spent sweating and moving.

contact sports

While it’s good to stay active, we’ll try to stick to sports that avoid sudden impact and contact. Martial arts, football, basketball, and soccer are just a few examples of sports where healthy training can very quickly lead to a sudden tear or fracture, especially when we come into physical contact with other people.

estenosis espinal ejercicios prohibidos

Recommended exercises

The exercises we teach below are for informational purposes only; they are not designed to be a “recipe” for spinal stenosis.

knee hugs

The common theme of the exercises recommended for spinal stenosis is that they all involve the opposite of spinal extension: we call this movement flexion.

Flexion exercises for spinal stenosis tend to produce a much better result than extension exercises. When we hug the legs, the pelvis rotates and our spine moves into this flexed position. This opens up the narrow spaces in the spine and allows compressed nerves to breathe for a while, effectively relieving symptoms.

Flexion when sitting

This is a good spinal stenosis exercise to do from a chair. Again, by leaning forward, we will open up the spaces in the spine where the nerves pass through and allow them more freedom of movement. This exercise is also fantastic for relieving back pain.

This exercise is a quick-relief position for spinal stenosis that we can get into if the pain comes on suddenly or gets worse and we find a convenient place to sit.

gluteal stretch

This stretch will also help treat piriformis syndrome and promote quick relief of piriformis syndrome. This exercise is more of a stretch than a spinal exercise, but it stretches a muscle group closely related to the spine called the “glutes.”

These muscles are often tight in people with spinal stenosis and can put the spine in a more compromised position.

hip flexor stretch

In many people with spinal stenosis, the posture has something called an anterior pelvic tilt. This is a pelvic position where the pelvic bowl tilts forward. Actually, this is a bad position for someone with spinal stenosis; it increases spinal extension and will make the pain worse.

If we have an anterior pelvic tilt, the hip flexors are likely to be tight. By stretching the hip flexors with the exercise shown above, we can reduce that anterior pelvic tilt and take a little more pressure off the spine.