Spinal stenosis is a condition characterized by a narrowing of the inner space found at the center of each vertebra. This narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis usually occurs in the neck and/or lower back regions of the spine. The additional pressure can cause pain, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and even bowel and bladder problems. While the onset of spinal stenosis is most often associated with osteoarthritis, it can also come about as a result of herniated discs, tumors and spinal injuries. Mild cases of spinal stenosis—those that do not require surgery to increase the size of each opening—can be managed through proper medication, diet and lifestyle. Weight loss is important to help alleviate pressure on the spine when dealing with spinal stenosis. As far as movement goes, yoga is an effective way to keep your body healthy and fit, without causing you more back pain.


When certain nerves are compressed as a result of spinal stenosis, back pain can occur. This back pain can be felt anywhere up the length of the back. It is common for lumbar spinal stenosis to result in low back pain, while cervical spinal stenosis tends to affect the upper back and neck more. Unlike back pain caused by muscle tension, the pain signals are coming from the the spinal cord and not from the nerves in the location where the pain is being experienced. Furthermore, there is not much that can be done to correct spinal stenosis. However, there are ways to support the spine so that the condition is manageable.


Like many conditions that cause back pain, spinal stenosis can be positively affected by the right form of movement. Or rather, when the rest of the body is able to remain strong and flexible, there is less additional aggravation to the nerves of the back. While movement cannot directly help spinal stenosis, it can absolutely make things worse. Straining the spine can put more pressure on the spinal cord and nerves and possibly exacerbate the condition. So it is important to choose activities that allow the body to move freely and safely. Yoga is an accessible movement practice that may be of benefit to people with mild spinal stenosis.


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Yoga combines breath and movement to stretch and strengthen the body. There is little to no impact in yoga which makes it an ideal activity for people with back pain. When it comes to spinal stenosis, yoga offers a wide variety of modifications for poses to suit the needs of your condition. There is also the added benefit of being able to use props—blocks, straps, bolsters, blankets—to assist with alignment and support. Yoga is a full-body practice that often incorporates meditation as well. So, in addition to relieving physical tension and stress, you will learn to let go of mental stress. Stress aggravates the nervous system and being able to manage your stress levels will have a positive effect on the back pain you feel as a result of spinal stenosis. Here are some tips when doing yoga:


Backbends gently compress the spine—especially the lower or lumbar spine—and stimulate the nerves in and around the vertebral column. As the spinal cord is already being compressed through spinal stenosis, it is best to avoid deep backbends as they may cause your back pain to increase. Instead, focus on bending into the mid back or avoid backbends altogether.


Just like backbends, twists compress or ‘wring out’ the spine as well. More compression can mean more pain so only do gentle twists. Move in and out of twists slowly and with control, as not to aggravate the spine more. Alternately, avoid twisting altogether.


Forward folds create space in the back of the spine and can alleviate some of the pressure caused by spinal stenosis. Take time in your yoga practice to do a standing forward fold, seated forward fold, or even just child’s pose. Be gentle when folding forward and remember to move in and out of each forward fold slowly and mindfully.

While spinal stenosis can be a difficult condition to live with, yoga can help make managing it a bit easier. As easy as it might be to avoid moving the body when you have spinal stenosis, a regular movement practice will benefit you in the long-term. So roll out your yoga mat and have a good stretch. Your back will thank you.


“Spinal Stenosis.” Mayo Clinic. November 18, 2015. Accessed November 28, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/spinal-stenosis/basics/definition/con-20036105.