Patients with lumbar spinal stenosis reported significant improvement after Physical Therapy, with the greatest gains occurring in patients who received manual Physical Therapy, exercise, and a progressive body-weight-supported treadmill walking program, according to a randomized controlled trial published in the October 15 issue of the medical journal Spine.

Physical Therapist and lead researcher Julie M Whitman, PT, DSc, and colleagues found that patients treated with two forms of noninvasive Physical Therapy programs reported improvements in disability and satisfaction after just 6 weeks. The study was conducted at Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center.

Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal most often caused by the aging process. Symptoms of spinal stenosis may include numbness, weakness, cramping, or pain in the legs, feet, or buttocks; stiffness in the legs and thighs; low back pain; and, in severe cases loss of bladder and bowel control. A diagnosis of lumbar spinal stenosis often results in spinal surgery in patients over 65 years of age, costing the nation’s health care system $1 billion annually.

“To our knowledge, this is the first randomized clinical trial comparing noninvasive intervention programs for patients with lumbar spinal stenosis,” Whitman said. “Our results demonstrate that patients receiving Physical Therapy programs achieve clinically important improvements at 6 weeks and 1 year post-therapy.”

Fifty-eight patients with lumbar spinal stenosis were recruited from medical centers in San Antonio, Texas, and were randomly selected to receive one of two 6-week Physical Therapy programs. One program included manual Physical Therapy (both thrust and non-thrust manipulation of the spine and lower extremity joints, manual stretching, and muscle strengthening exercises) to the thoracic and lumbar spine and lower extremities, body-weight-supported treadmill walking, and exercise. The other program included lumbar flexion exercises (30-second sets of single- and double-knee-to-chest exercises), a progressive treadmill walking program, and sub-therapeutic ultrasound.

“Given the prevalence, cost, and disability associated with lumbar spinal stenosis, and the lack of studies being conducted on non-surgical care for these patients, we must make it a priority to explore non-surgical treatment options,” said Whitman.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is a national professional organization representing more than 69,000 physical therapists, Physical Therapist assistants, and students. APTA’s goal is to foster advancements in Physical Therapy practice, research, and education.

If you or a loved one suffers from back pain or spinal stenosis, Physical Therapy can help. Please feel free to call with any questions you may have about back pain or Physical Therapy.