Will severe spinal stenosis prevent me from nursing?

Nurses Disabilities


  • Specializes in future OB/L&D nurse(I hope) or hospice.

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286 Posts

Specializes in future OB/L&D nurse(I hope) or hospice.
I have been there with the back pain. steroid inj. and spinal fusion. You can still be a nurse. I would shadow or as someone else stated try being a CNA. I have worked floors to OR to home health. The worst place is a desk job. You just have to smart about it and take care of yourself. Yoga and pilates help. I wish you the best of luck. You don't have to give up your dream!

Thank you so much for the encouragment. I think I have cried more in the past two weeks then my entire life. I have a desk job now and it is killing me. So, I will not give up my dream. I have wanted this for soooooo long and I am so close to applying. So, thanks again. God Bless

Specializes in Med/Surg, DSU, Ortho, Onc, Psych.

Only you can guage your pain level and what you can and can't do.

And no I wouldn't be advertising the fact that you have this condition. Also look at good pain control, physio, relaxation like pilates and yoga and weights to strengthen the muscles around the spine. See a good chiropractor as well.

But I must warn you: if you have an accident where you drop a patient somehow, or injure your back more, you will be questioned as to why this condition wasn't found out before. Also new employers will give you a medical as well, so I don't see how ur going to hide it really. You could also be sued in future if it's discovered you had this condition, a patient was injured and you had not told anyone you weren't physically capable of doing a nursing job. Just something to keep in mind.

You could go into psych but a lot of nursing is very physical - not just lifting or turning, but running around for 8-12 hours sometimes 3-4 days per week - how will your back really handle that? Maybe telenursing might be an option, but you really need 12 months experience in an acute area to get other jobs.

I reckon you have a lot to think about, and some tough decisions to make.

madwife2002, BSN, RN

61 Articles; 4,777 Posts

Specializes in RN, BSN, CHDN.
Yes! Three years ago, I started having severe back pain and was dx w/ spinal stenosis, ruptured disks and degenerative disk disease in L4,5 - S1. I developed arthritis and bone spurs. I had numbness in several toes and severe leg pain from the nerve compression. I had to stop bedside nursing for a year and take a desk job that I despised. My doctor tried to talk me into getting out of nursing all together and take disability. After PT didn't work, I was sent to a pain specialist. He was excellant! I recieved 3 steroid injections in two months. Two months after that, I had a diagnostic nerve block. A week after the nerve block, I had a facet rhizotomy. That was last September. It worked so well that I quit my job a year to the date I was hired and went back to the hospital in October. I don't take any narcotics or muscle relaxers. I take Aleve for the occasional back ache after a 12 hour shift. I take care of myself with daily stretching and I ask for help with moving patients if I think I may need it. I said all this to say that it can be done. The worst thing you can do is sit at a desk or home health (not home care). Don't be afraid to be your own advocate and communicate with your doc. Good luck!!!

Careful with Aleve I took it for back issues last year they found I was anemic and did a scope and found 6 ulcers which they said would have been caused by Aleve!

A lovely medication with horrible side effects-the GI Doctor said he sees pts daily with ulcers and GI bleeds from aleve!


286 Posts

Specializes in future OB/L&D nurse(I hope) or hospice.
Careful with Aleve I took it for back issues last year they found I was anemic and did a scope and found 6 ulcers which they said would have been caused by Aleve!

A lovely medication with horrible side effects-the GI Doctor said he sees pts daily with ulcers and GI bleeds from aleve!

Wow, I must agree with the Aleve. I got very sick this past weekend and actually vomited blood!! Have NEVER done that before and the only different medication I was taking as Aleve. Don't know for sure if that was the cause, but I am done with it.. back to my Advil.


91 Posts

Hi. I have recently found myself in a similar predicament and am curious about how you are doing. Are you in nursing school? Are you able to handle the physical demands of clinicals?

My problems are in my neck and were found by accident. ENT was looking for something else and was concerned about what he saw in my neck on a CT scan. He referred me to a neurosurgeon who ordered an MRI and x-rays and determined that I have 3 bulging discs, arthritis, bone spurs, nerve impingements on both sides of two vertebrae, and severe central canal stenosis at two levels. I'm freaking out! I'm in my 4th semester of prereqs, have straight A's, scored over 90% on the entrance exam, and thought I was all set for nursing school in the fall.

I have some neck and shoulder pain on and off, but nothing terrible. My arms go numb when I'm sleeping and I've had 2 episodes of carpal tunnel symptoms, but the EMG/nerve conduction study came back normal. I have no weakness in my arms and no feelings of instability in my spine. I'm praying and hoping that this can be managed without surgery and that I can still go to nursing school. I'm hoping to work in OR, but will consider other specialities if I have to, as long as I can do something and get away from my desk job!

You have a condition that, most likely, will severely limit your ability to do bedside nursing and the clinical practice needed to achieve your degree.

Talk to your doctor , physical therapist and a specialist about your employment goals.

They should be able to give you a projection as to whether or not these goals are feasible.

If their responses are negative.. use the credits you have worked hard for and apply them in another area.

Best of luck.. nurses usually only get a bad back after years of abuse!


2 Posts

As a nurse patients safety is top priority and if you are not totally physically fit stay away from nursing school

klone, MSN, RN

14,684 Posts

Specializes in OB-Gyn/Primary Care/Ambulatory Leadership.
I have had L5/S1 total arthroplasty using the charite III artificial disc.

I would love to hear more about your experience. I was diagnosed two years ago with herniated L5/S1 and DDD. After trying conservative therapies for two years, I finally had surgery last month. Because of the degenerated disc, I was opting for an artificial disc, but the neuro didn't want to do that, and instead was certain that a partial discectomy/laminectomy would be enough. I have a feeling that I will need more invasive treatment at some point in the next couple years.

nurseprnRN, BSN, RN

1 Article; 5,114 Posts

klone: have heart. The research shows that your back will feel fine in a few years. "Eeek! A few years! I can't do that!" Yes, actually, you can. The years will pass no matter what you do. All you need to do is keep going. Been there, done that (L4-5-S1 partial discect/lami).

The best advice I got was from two people: 1) Physical terrorist umm therapist: Walk. Walk and walk and walk. At the beginning you will feel like death but I promise you that as your core muscles get back into the business of maintaining upright posture they will make you feel better. I used books on tape-- out as far as I could go on one side, turn over tape, turn around. At first it was all I could do to go out 1/4 mile and I thought I would die, and the next day I couldn't do anything. But in eight weeks of working up to walking 3-5x/week I got up to two miles out, two miles back on the same size tape. Get a really good mystery series or something and do not let yourself listen to it unless you're walking. Keeps you mind off your fears, and meanwhile your proprioception and balance and core muscles are improving weekly.

2) Swedish physical therapist. She said in her country they laugh at US therapy and medicine because the patients here are led to believe that they're at maximum improvement at six months, and then they despair, hit the couch, and become more disabled because their muscles weaken, thus causing more pain when they get asked to do anything normal...and they atrophy, get tighter, get more painful, and people start yelling, "Failed back syndrome!" (there is no such real diagnosis). That's ridiculous, when all the research they work on shows that you can improve for at least two years. I stopped looking at the months calendars at that point, and damned if she wasn't right. But it really did take me almost two years to feel normal. Normal normal.

Set yourself goals, small ones, then larger when achieved (and they will be achieved). In my case I said, "I want five lousy minutes without pain. Not too much to ask, is it?" And of course, I got that. Not every day but soon it was every day, and then multiple times per day. Then, "OK, I want fifteen minutes without pain." That happened eventually. "An hour." Check. "Two hours." Check.

I worked up to "A morning" and then "Every morning," and eventually "A day," and "Two days." "One week." At that point I started to have some confidence, so I said, "OK, my ultimate goal is to get to the point where I completely forget I ever had anything happen to my back." Hah! said my not-very-subconscious. Fat damn chance of that! I ain't nevernevernever forgetting this!

Except, well, I did. I remember clearly the day in October when I realized that I hadn't thought about my back for months. Now I go years and years sometimes. Happy to pass it on. Get a good physiatrist (MD that specializes in rehab) who does backs, and a good PT that isn't afraid of making you move, and you will join the ranks of those who got better. I actually learned all this years after my back surgery when I started doing work comp and saw a lot of back injuries; that's when I realized that my neurosurgeon (who never sent anyone to PT, put everyone in lumbar braces that did nothing but further weaken core muscles, and told us all not to do anything if it hurts...newsflash: it all hurts) was dead wrong and the ortho guys who worked with the physiatrists had the best outcomes by far. I was just lucky that he said, "PT? Well, if you want to...." without really sounding hopeful. I looooooved my therapist, after I stopped wanting to kill her.

klone, MSN, RN

14,684 Posts

Specializes in OB-Gyn/Primary Care/Ambulatory Leadership.

Wow, thank you for that fabulous advice. I'm going to be 40 in a few days, and I just keep thinking 'I am too damn young for my body to be falling apart!" I want to play tennis, I want to (gulp) actually jog again someday. I know my back and stomach muscles are SO SO SO weak and I know that if I can strengthen them, that will help a lot. Thanks again for the advice/wisdom.


344 Posts

Specializes in Medical Surgical.

Hospice nursing would not be good for someone with a bad back. You are always going into peoples home and never know what to expect, there are many times that you are doing full patient care including cleaning, rolling and turning pts who are very large. Also when there is a passing, you have to clean, and dress the body frequently, which is not easy, even when they are not very big. Sometimes they fall on the floor and you need to help get them up. There are times you will arrive at the house and the only CG is 97 yo and not able to transfer the pt and they just had a change of condition and they are relying on you to move the pt from a easy chair to a bed down the hall. It is very stressful on the back at times. Some pts will not want a hospital bed, so you may be crawling over a king size bed, or bending down to the smallest lazy chair in the world, and stooping at odd angles to insert foleys. I practice good body mechanics, have a great back and it can still be hard on me.

Specializes in general.
On 4/6/2011 at 5:02 AM, Butterfly0328 said:

Hi everyone, I have been working so hard to get all my pre-reqs done in order to apply to a nursing program. After this semester I only have Micro to take. BUT, I just found out a couple of weeks ago that I have severe central spinal stenosis in my lumbar L4-5 through L5-S1. I have been getting steroid injections and have just started the nerve blocks. I am so depressed because nursing has been my dream for as long as I can remember. This would be my second career. I refuse to give it up. I have spent the past 2 years completing these classes (as I also work full time) and I am so very close to applying. Have any of you faced the same situation? Any words of advice would be great. Thanks so much.

Hello, how did it go? Did you pursue nursing? 

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