Spinal stenosis is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can result in permanent nerve damage or even paralysis. If you suffer from chronic or worsening back pain you may have spinal stenosis. This diagnosis can often be a scary one. Most people who seek traditional treatment end up requiring surgery. While surgical techniques have improved over the years, it remains an expensive and risky procedure. Many sufferers are wisely seeking alternative therapies to treat their back pain. If you have received this diagnosis, you may want to consider chiropractic treatment for spinal stenosis.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Your spine, or back bone, is a series of 24 bones called vertebrae that support the body. These vertebrae also house the spinal cord in a channel called the spinal canal. There are openings down either side of the spine that allow the spinal nerves to exit the spinal canal.
Spinal stenosis is a condition in which these spaces narrow, putting pressure on the spine and nerve roots. The narrowing of these spaces causes irritation and inflammation. Left untreated these nerves can become scarred and suffer a permanent loss of function.
These openings in the spine can become narrow at any point in the back. What symptoms you experience and their severity depends on where they are located and how severely the space has narrowed. The symptoms may come on gradually over time or may seem to have a sudden onset. Symptoms may worsen with certain activities such as running or lifting heavy objects. Symptoms may include:
The most common places for spinal stenosis to occur is in the cervical spine (neck and shoulders portion of the spine) and the lumbar spine (lower back). The symptoms range from mild to severe. It may start as a dull and localized discomfort between the shoulders or just in the lower back. For some the pain is an intense sharp, electrical pain that shoots through the hips and legs or into the arms. Pain may worsen with certain activities or improve with others.
Loss of Sensation or Tingling
In rare cases patients do not experience any pain with spinal stenosis. Instead they may just have numbness and tingling in the affected areas. Numbness and tingling can accompany pain and affects various parts of the body. This most commonly affects the site around the stenosis as well as the limbs.
Your bones help give the body structure but what keeps you standing and allows you to move are your muscles. To maintain balance and coordination your brain has to be able to send and receive messages from those muscles. When the nerves are damaged or not functioning properly it prevents the brain from receiving this information. This results in muscle weakness and difficulty with movement or bearing weight. There are also a series of nerve roots in the spine that control bladder and bowel functions. Compression of these nerve roots can result in urinary or bowel incontinence.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is most typically caused by degenerative conditions. These include:
Osteoarthritis affects the cartilage in the spine. As it thins and wears down the vertebrae can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. Where the cartilage has worn too thin, the bones may rub together, causing the formation of osteophytes (bone spurs). These bone spurs also put pressure on the nerve roots.
Degenerative Disc Disease
As the discs between vertebrae become dehydrated or break down, the spaces between bones becomes smaller. This puts pressure on nerves as they exit the spinal canal. Degenerative disc disease also contributes to bulging discs. When a disc bulges into the spinal canal it puts pressure on the spinal cord.
Ligament Thickening or Buckling
There is a lot of connective tissue that surrounds the spine and passes through the spinal canal. With some conditions these tissues can thicken or harden into bone. When these ligaments harden or thicken it reduces space in the spinal canal, compressing the spinal cord and nerve roots. With some genetic diseases these connective tissues loosen and may buckle, creating a narrow point in the spinal canal. Spinal deformities such as scoliosis, tumors, or cysts can also create narrow points in the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis can also result from injury. It is common in patients with spinal injuries from sports or car accidents or any time a vertebra is dislocated or fractured.
Who Develops Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is often the result of degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis. Because of this, it is most common in people over the age of 50. Younger people may suffer from the condition too but it is usually the result of an injury, spinal deformity, or genetic condition.
How Can a Chiropractic Treatment Help Spinal Stenosis?
If you have spinal stenosis and are looking for an alternative to surgery, chiropractic treatment for spinal stenosis is a wonderful option. It is both safe and effective and most patients begin seeing an improvement in their symptoms within the first two months. Depending on the cause of your condition your chiropractor will use a combination of techniques to improve your quality of life. These techniques might include physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and regenerative medicine.
As with any other type of back pain, a key to reducing pain and improving range of motion is your physical fitness. Having weak or stiff muscles in your core or back contributes to poor posture. This puts extra stress and strain on your spine and can worsen your symptoms. Physical therapy focuses on addressing these gaps in fitness to protect the spine from further injury. It also helps to maintain proper spacing between vertebrae, relieving pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.
When the spine is in proper alignment it should run straight down the center of the back. Looking at it from a side view, the spine should have a gentle ‘s’ curve to it. Any variation in that can result in pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. A chiropractor will use manual manipulation or specialized equipment to restore this alignment. When the spine is in proper alignment the nerves can then heal and resume normal function.
Regenerative medicine taps into the body’s natural ability to heal itself using stem cells. Stem cells have the potential to develop into any type of cell in the human body. When these cells come in contact with damaged tissue it triggers them to specialize into that type of cell to help repair the damage. By using this therapy, it is possible to repair torn or thinning cartilage.