Most people experience some form of back pain at some point in their lives, and fortunately, most recover without the need for surgery. But with spinal stenosis, which causes back and neck pain and is associated with osteoarthritis of spinal joint for elderly, surgery has commonly been considered as the only method to effectively alleviate constant and severe pain. However, a new study revealed that physiotherapy treatment for spinal stenosis can be just as effective as surgery, and should be considered as the first option for treatment.
More about Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis affects the vertebrae of the spinal column. The spinal cord and nerves pass through openings within the vertebrates and when the passage narrows due to osteoarthritis, the pressure on spinal nerves causes pain radiating to back and lower legs or arms.
Spinal stenosis may occur in the low back or neck, and is mostly related to the ageing process in the spine when the disks that create space between each set of vertebrae flatten, leaving less room for the nerve to exit from the spinal cord. Ageing may also lead to osteoarthritis, whereby the body forms additional bone to address the deterioration of the cartilage between joints, causing pressure on the nerves.
Spinal stenosis can also result from spinal injuries, spinal tumours, Paget disease and other bone-related diseases, and thickening of certain spinal ligaments.
Managing Spinal Stenosis
In most cases of spinal stenosis, the symptoms which include pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in the limbs can be effectively managed with a combination of physical therapy and other conservative treatments. Aggressive treatments or surgery are not necessary except in severe cases.
Physical Therapy Techniques
The primary objective of physical therapy is to lessen pain and allow you to gradually resume your daily activities. The treatment uses physical or mechanical techniques involving hands on mobilization and manual therapy, heat or exercise to reduce pain in the soft tissues, such as the tendons, muscles, and ligaments; build muscle strength; and improve function.
Common physical therapy techniques include:
- Special stretches and exercises that reduce pressure on the joints to relieve pain.
- Strengthening exercise for the trunk muscles to provide support for the spinal joints; and for arm and leg muscles to reduce the workload on the spinal joints.
- Stretching and flexibility exercises to promote mobility in the joints and muscles of the spine and relieve pain.
- Manual therapy, such as massage to improve/maintain range of motion.
- Heat therapy for better blood circulation; ice therapy for pain management.
- Aerobic exercises to improve tolerance for walking and other daily activities that may have been affected by the condition.
Your physical therapist may provide any of these treatments, as well as posture instruction and education so you can make simple changes in your walking, sitting, and standing habits to relieve pressure on the nerves. In some cases, special devices and pain treatments may be used to improve mobility and reduce severe pain.