Do you suffer from back pain? If so, then you may be experiencing a common condition known as spinal stenosis.
Of course, numerous conditions may be responsible for the pain that you feel along your spine. How do you know that you have spinal stenosis?
It helps to know what this condition is, how it occurs and what can be done to treat it. Let’s start with defining the condition.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
No matter how determined we are to remain healthy and vital, aging still occurs. Frequently, aging means changes to the spine.
Much of this is normal wear and tear, but this degeneration can cause the spinal canal to narrow. When this occurs, the patient is diagnosed with spinal stenosis.
Approximately 95 percent of people experience changes to their spine by the time they are 50 years old. In particular, spinal stenosis is most likely to affect people over the age of 60, and the numbers of men and women who have this condition are fairly equal, so you can’t count on your gender to protect you.
Some cases of this condition are genetic. Called congenital spinal stenosis, people with this condition are born with back problems, but the first symptoms of spinal stenosis begin to manifest between 30 and 50 years of age.
The Anatomy of the Spine
The small bones known as vertebrae are stacked on each other one after another from your tailbone to the base of your skull.
These bones are connected so that they create a canal through the center. The purpose of the canal is to protect the nerve roots and the spinal cord. Nerves run through openings in your vertebrae to carry vital messages between your muscles and your brain.
Where the spinal cord ends in your lower back, it turns into nerve roots. These also trail from the spinal canal through holes called foramen in the vertebrae.
Other parts of the spine’s anatomy include intervertebral disks that reside between each vertebra. These flat, round disks are about one-half inch thick and are designed to absorb shocks and impacts.
Additionally, the spine is equipped with facet joints that help to give your spine its incredible mobility. Unfortunately, these joints may develop arthritis, which leads to back pain.
Spinal Stenosis and Its Causes
The spinal canal is a crucial part of your spine’s anatomy. It protects your spinal cord and nerve roots, but it is possible for this canal to narrow over time.
Accordingly, the spinal cord and nerve roots receive an excess of pressure. The result can be symptoms such as numbness and pain. Some people even experience leg weakness.
How does spinal stenosis develop? Usually, it is a result of arthritis.
The term “arthritis” may be used to refer to any number of diseases that cause pain in the joints.
In the spine, arthritis may occur in the intervertebral disks as they get older and lose their water content. Water content in the disks of children and young adults is exceptionally high. However, age causes the disks to weaken and become drier.
The result of this degeneration is the collapse of the disks. This causes the spine to settle, transferring the body’s weight to the facet joints. At the same time, the openings in the vertebrae through which the nerves exit the spine become contracted.
Putting all of that extra pressure on the facet joints may cause them to degenerate and develop arthritis as well. The protective covering of cartilage on the facet joints wears away, and this may lead to bone on bone contact and rubbing.
Your body may try to atone for the loss of cartilage by growing new bone in the facet joint area. Called spurs, these new bones are meant to support the vertebrae. Unfortunately, these spurs further contract the holes through which the nerves are supposed to travel.
It’s also possible that having arthritis in the lower back will cause the ligaments that surround the joints to get larger. Once again, this means that there is less space for the nerves. The spinal nerves become irritated as the available space shrinks, leading to painful symptoms.
The Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis
People may be afflicted with either cervical stenosis or lumbar stenosis. With cervical stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal occurs in the neck area. Lumbar stenosis affects the spine in the lower back, and it is the most common form of this condition.
People who have cervical stenosis may experience symptoms such as:
- Pain in the neck
- Difficulty with walking and balance
- Tingling or numbness in the leg, foot, arm or hand
- Leg, foot, arm or hand weakness
The symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis include:
- Back pain
- Cramping or pain in either or both legs after standing for longer periods or while walking
- Weakness of the leg or foot
- Tingling or numbness in the leg or foot
The symptoms experienced may vary widely from one person to the nest. If the arthritis is just beginning to develop, then the patient may not feel any back or neck pain.
Additionally, some people may be afflicted with sciatica, which is a burning pain in the legs or buttocks. This symptom may begin as an ache in the buttocks that eventually spreads down the leg and into the foot.
People who experience pain or cramping after standing or while walking may find that their discomfort lessens if they sit or lean forward. Leaning forward actually creates more space for the nerves, bringing instant relief. Accordingly, some patients find it easier to walk while leaning on something, like a shopping cart.
However, even walking in this attitude can bring on weakness or sciatica after a distance of a couple of blocks.
When to Seek Health Care
If you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms described above, then it is time to seek treatment. Frequently, chiropractic care is the best option because it is non-invasive and does not involve prescription medications.
However, it generally is wise for people who have this condition to explore all of their options and choose multiple therapies. This may involve visiting their primary care physician.
If you do visit a chiropractor for a suspected case of spinal stenosis, then your healthcare provider will take a thorough medical history and perform a physical examination.
During the examination, the chiropractor will probably press on various parts of your back to determine where the pain is coming from. You may be asked to stand up and bend forward or from side to side so that the chiropractor can watch how your spine moves.
Chiropractic is considered an effective treatment option for spinal stenosis. This is because these treatments correct and re-align disks that may be dislocated or herniated. The result is less pressure on the spinal cord, the joints and the nerve networks.
While spinal manipulation may be the primary treatment method used by chiropractors, it is likely that the provider also will use techniques like massage to reduce inflammation and treat pain. A variety of mechanical tools similarly may help to restore muscle function and address numbness.
Another treatment avenue is a personalized program of physiotherapy and exercise. When performed regularly, this program optimizes spinal support and improves flexibility and strength.
Is Surgery Necessary?
With high-quality chiropractic care, it very well may not be necessary to undergo surgery. In fact, it is wise for people to explore what chiropractic can do for their spinal stenosis before consenting to surgery.
Surgery is invasive and inherently risky. With a condition like spinal stenosis, the procedure may include removing part of your vertebrae or the widening of the holes through which the nerves exit the spine.
As you might imagine, considerable time is needed to recover from such a surgery. Complications may ensue, and it can be quite painful.
Isn’t it worth trying chiropractic care to avoid this situation?
Give Dean Chiropractic a Call
At Dean Chiropractic, we have treated dozens of patients who were suffering from spinal stenosis. This is a common condition, and chiropractic treatments are recognized as some of the best therapies for this condition.
Schedule a spinal stenosis consultation with Dean Chiropractic today.