Lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS) is a condition in which there is a narrowing of the pathways that nerves and blood vessels pass through within the lower aspect of the spine.
This leads to back/leg pain in clients and significant disability (most commonly in a reduced ability to walk). Spinal stenosis is the most common diagnosis for spinal surgery in adults over 60 years of age.
Physical therapists are able to diagnose spinal stenosis based on signs and symptoms from a thorough verbal history, a physical examination, and a detailed investigation of tests like X-rays and MRIs.
Prior to the option of surgery becoming available, most patients are recommended for physical therapy. Research done by our group saw approximately 60% of patients with LSS in Canada are referred for physical therapy.
Our team had the opportunity to conduct a detailed review of the current state of research evidence on LSS, a process known as a systematic review. In our study, we found that exercise therapy is more effective for LSS than not exercising for back and leg pain.
Physical therapy was also found to be just as effective for improving walking distance in the long-term (2 years later) as surgery. Prescription of lumbar braces were also effective in improving walking distance. The advantage of seeing physical therapy is that we can tailor exercises to your symptoms and make sure that you are exercising safely and effectively.
Prescribing a lumbar brace is also very important through us as you want a proper, tailored fit specifically to your condition. There are many products available and getting the best one for your back is vital. While typically long-term pain outcomes are in the favor of surgery, improving quality of life and disability with physical therapy is just as effective and can be a good option for those attempting to avoid surgery.
Research is still ongoing but current evidence shows physical therapy has a large role to play in helping LSS.