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Ask a PT: What is Spinal Stenosis?


Featured Physical Therapist: Michael Hemby PT, DPT, OCS

Q: What is Spinal Stenosis?Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 8.36.44 AM

A: “Patients walk into our clinics daily with a variety of low back or neck pain, and what many individuals may not realize is that there are many different potential causes of low back pain, meaning that there isn’t one exercise or home program alone that can help with their pain and dysfunction. It has been estimated that up to 75 percent of the population will develop some sort of low back or neck pain in their life. Although many individuals think that surgery may be their only option, what increased literature and evidence tells us is that not only is surgery not the only option, but most individuals will recover without the need for surgery, and physical therapy usually provides better long-term results compared to surgery.

One of the most common diagnosis for low back or neck pain that I have treated over the years is spinal stenosis, either in the lumbar spine (low back) or in the cervical spine (neck). Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the openings within the vertebrae. This narrowing affects the spinal cord and nerves that exit through the vertebra and go out to the rest of your body. The narrowing within the vertebrae can result in too much pressure on the spinal cord (central stenosis) or nerves (lateral stenosis).

Symptoms of spinal stenosis can be pain, numbness, tingling and weakness. If you have lumbar stenosis your symptoms may be worsened by walking or increased activity, but should improve with sitting. The common causes of spinal stenosis are related to the aging process; this may include osteoarthritis, bone spurs, degenerative disk disease, injuries to the spine, and thickening of spinal ligaments.

Our highly skilled physical therapists with PT Solutions are trained to screen, evaluate, and treat spinal stenosis. Medical research has shown that in most cases of spinal stenosis physical therapy has better results than surgery. Your treatment may include manual therapy to your spine and adjacent extremities, specific exercises to decrease the excessive compression on the spinal cord or peripheral nerves, functional strengthening, flexibility, aerobic conditioning to increase tolerance to walking or other functional activities, balance and gait training, education on the disease process, progression of the disease and education of how to prevent the worsening of spinal stenosis.”

Ask a PT is a monthly blog feature where physical therapists at PT Solutions Physical Therapy give their professional input on a popular patient question. Do you have a question that you’d like answered? Leave us a comment below!


About the PT

Michael Hemby PT, DPT, OCS is a Senior Clinic Director in North Carolina and is a graduate of PT Solutions Orthopaedic Residency. Michael received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Central Michigan University. After completion of PT Solutions Orthopaedic Residency he became Board Certified in Orthopaedics through the American Physical Therapy Association. Michael is experienced in Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, with a strong emphasis in manual therapy. Michael has been a guest lecturer at multiple universities and presenter at various physical therapy meetings. Michael is certified in dry needling and also serves as a Certified Clinical Instructor through the American Physical Therapy Association.

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