Beyond Simple Back Pain: What Is Spinal Stenosis?
It’s impossible to overstate just how important spine health is for our total health. What happens in the spine transfers to many systems throughout our body due to the fact that the central nervous system is a highway of information. This is exactly why maintaining spine health by addressing pain and discomfort right away is so important. One of the most serious spinal conditions to have on your radar if spinal pain is an issue is something called spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is usually a lumbar issue that impacts the lower-back area. However, it’s also possible to experience cervical spinal stenosis in the neck. While spinal stenosis often stems from age-related spinal changes, it’s something that can affect people of all ages. Take a look at the basics of spinal stenosis.
What Happens When You Get Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spaces within your spine. As the space in your spine reduces, this can create pressure and irritation within the nerves. It’s not uncommon to experience compression and pinching that can create very severe back pain. If the pain goes unchecked, it can turn into sciatica that radiates all the way down the leg. One of the most common causes of spinal stenosis is a dislocated disc that is causing friction and inflammation within the spinal column. This one isolated area can cause pain and limit mobility throughout the body as nerve messages to the joints and muscles are blocked.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
There are many reasons why a person might develop spinal stenosis. In most cases, this is an age-related issue that simply builds up over years of putting “everyday” pressure on the spine when standing or sitting. However, there are certain “risk factors” that can increase your odds of developing this condition. Here’s a look:
- You’ve had a narrow spinal canal since birth.
- You’ve had a spine injury.
- You’ve previously had spinal surgery.
- You’ve had spinal tumors.
- You have osteoarthritis.
- You have spondyloarthritis.
- You have Paget’s disease.
- You have scoliosis.
- You’ve had bony spurs.
- You have rheumatoid arthritis.
- You’re over the age of 50.
It appears that women develop spinal stenosis at greater rates than men. One theory among researchers is that postmenopausal women show accelerated disc degeneration caused by estrogen reduction. Unfortunately, the pain and discomfort of spinal stenosis can be severe regardless of why the condition has formed.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can manifest in a number of different ways due to the fact that the nerves that are impacted are communicating messages to different parts of the body. In fact, the “radiating” quality of the pain associated with this condition can make it difficult to pin down the source because many people with misaligned or pressed discs in the spine experience pain or numbness throughout the lower half of the body. Here’s a look at the signature symptoms of spinal stenosis:
- Back pain.
- A burning, sciatic sensation that radiates down the buttocks and legs.
- Numbness and tingling in the legs.
- Leg cramping.
- Weakness or lack of sensation in the feet.
- Loss of sexual ability.
- Loss of bladder control.
Many people with spinal stenosis find that the pain gets worse when they are standing or walking for long periods of time. Generally, walking downhill creates the greatest pain. It is also common for the pain to lessen when you’re bending or leaning forward. In the case of neck spinal stenosis, the symptoms are concentrated in the neck area. In addition to neck pain, someone suffering from neck spinal stenosis might experience numbness and tingling in the arm and hand, loss of function in the hand or balance problems.
How Is Spinal Stenosis Diagnosed?
If you believe you have spinal stenosis, there are several methods for confirming your diagnosis. X-rays and imaging can often help to determine the exact spot where compression or narrowing is occurring. Additionally, someone with experience at treating spinal stenosis may also be able to spot telltale signs of the condition by pressing down on your spine.
How Do You Treat Spinal Stenosis?
Lifestyle management is really important for trying to undo the painful side effects of spinal stenosis. Practicing good posture is one of the simplest ways to prevent spinal stenosis from getting worse. It’s also important to begin exercising to build up strength and muscles in the body when treating spinal stenosis. Additionally, specialized stretching, bending and flexing movements can help to strengthen your body. It’s also important to avoid any movements that can potentially trigger your spinal stenosis pain. For instance, lifting heavy objects or walking for long periods of time can both do more harm than good.
For some people, surgery is an attractive option for treating spinal stenosis. It’s important to know that this option does come with risks. This includes risk of infection, clotting, membrane tears in the spinal cord, failure of the bone to heal and additional corrective surgery. Surgery also comes with a need for significant downtime for healing. In some cases, patients find that surgery for spinal stenosis doesn’t actually provide relief from symptoms.
There are plenty of nonsurgical options for spinal stenosis that can help to alleviate the pain, weakness or tingling brought on by this condition. For some patients, injections and medications can help to reduce symptoms. Many people also turn to holistic options like chiropractic adjustments to get rid of spinal pain. Using special adjustments, a chiropractor can correct disc misalignments that are creating pressure and tension within the spinal cord. This often helps to restore proper function within the joints and nerves that network out from the spine.
Final Thoughts on Spinal Stenosis: Treatment Is Available to Remove Pain, Restore Function and Improve Quality of Life
Spinal stenosis is nothing to simply ignore in the hopes that it will go away on its own. The reality is that this is a progressive condition that will worsen as time goes on due to the increasing tension and inflammation that occurs when bone tissue and nerves rub together. While some medications can help to relive immediate pain, it typically takes intervention to correct the underlying trigger. This often means correcting a disc misalignment that is blocking nerve signals.
A drastic option like surgery may not be necessary if you’re suffering from spinal stenosis. In many cases, spinal adjustments can help to alleviate the pain and pressure causing your painful symptoms. Researchers have identified chiropractic care for lumbar spinal stenosis as a beneficial treatment alternative. In addition to performing adjustments for restoring nerve function in the spine, a chiropractor can show you how to complete exercises and stretches that will prevent compression in the spine. Holistic treatments may even be effective if you’re at the point where standing or moving are becoming difficult due to pain, discomfort or balance issues. The bottom line is that treating spinal stenosis should be focused on treating the root cause of the painful nerve messages that are being communicated throughout the central nervous system.