Spinal Stenosis: A Natural Guide to Decrease Chronic Back Pain


As a nurse practitioner in traditional family medicine setting, spinal stenosis was a condition I was confronted with daily in my practice. I often felt disheartened when seeing patients suffering from this chronic back pain because I had little to offer patients to soothe their pain besides NSAIDS, pain medications and surgical referrals. After studying and practicing integrative medicine, I am enthusiastic to see patients with spinal stenosis because I now know effective alternative modalities that can really decrease their pain. What is spinal stenosis?

Overtime, osteoarthritis, injury or general wear and tear in the back can lead to narrowing of the spaces in the spine. This narrowing can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. This is referred to as spinal stenosis. Some individuals experience little or no pain, while others suffer greatly with pain, numbness and tingling in their arms and legs and reduced range of motion. The condition is typically diagnosed by X-ray, MRI or CT scan and is most common in those over age 50.

What does an integrative approach to spinal stenosis look like?

It is a whole person perspective including all aspects of lifestyle: nutrition, exercise, mind, body and spirit.

Nutrition: Eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega-3s fish and olive oil, vegetables and fruits has dual benefits for spinal stenosis. First it helps lower inflammation due to its high Omega 3 content and antioxidant rich foods. Secondly it is key in maintaining a healthy weight, this lessons the pressure or load on your spine naturally reducing symptoms.

Exercise: Movement is key in all osteoarthritic conditions. Exercise like walking, swimming and yoga with a certified knowledgeable teacher can all be beneficial. As a provider, I am very likely to prescribe a course of formal physical therapy. The hands on, holistic physical therapists we refer to help my patients strengthen the surrounding muscles and significantly reduce pain. They also teach the patients how to move and exercise at home—giving them the skills and independence to continue self-care at home.

Mind Body Medicine: Jon Kabat-Zinn and his team at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have completed dozens of clinical trials demonstrating the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in chronic conditions. One of his landmark studies showed how an 8 week MBSR course was highly effective at decreasing pain, discomfort and medication use in those with chronic pain. Both Jefferson, Penn and many local wellness centers offer MBSR courses in our area.

Supplements: Botanicals such as Bosweilla and Devil’s claw have evidenced based research supporting their use in back pain. Natural anti-inflammatories Curcumin and Omega-3 Fish oils can also be useful. Often Magnesium glycinate or Epsom Salt baths greatly diminished muscle aches and tension resulting from spinal stenosis.

Referrals to trusted colleagues: Alternative modalities such as Acupuncture, Craniosacral therapy and massage can all lessen pain and promote the body’s natural healing mechanisms.