As many as half a million Americans have symptoms associated with spinal stenosis. Those over the age of 50 are more likely to suffer from spinal stenosis, with estimates of 5 in every 1000 people in this age range being affected. As the average age of Americans is expected to grow in the next decade, the number of those diagnosed with spinal stenosis is likely to increase in the coming years.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis occurs when the openings of the spine become more narrow. This can affect either the spinal canal, which would put pressure on the spinal cord, or the neural foramen, where the spinal nerves exit the spine. Spinal stenosis is most common in the lower back, or lumbar spine, and the neck, or cervical spine.
The most common form of stenosis occurs in the lower back. Symptoms of lumbar stenosis include:
- Lower back pain
- Numbness or tingling in the feet or legs
- Weakness in the feet or legs
- Pain, usually described as cramping, in the feet or legs, when standing or walking
Symptoms of lumbar stenosis are usually relieved with sitting or bending over.
When narrowing of the spinal canal occurs in the neck, common symptoms include:
- Neck pain
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or arms
- Weakness in the hands or arms
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
Most commonly, spinal stenosis is caused by the gradual degeneration of the spine, which is why stenosis is more common in the population over 50 years of age. This degeneration, known as osteoarthritis, occurs over time due to “wear and tear” on the spine. In response the body produces excess bone, in the form of bone spurs, to help protect the spine. These bone spurs narrow the spinal openings leading to stenosis. Other causes of spinal stenosis include:
- Bulging or Herniated Discs - Discs are a spongy material located between each vertebra. If damage occurs to the outside of the disc, the soft material from the inside of the disc can begin to push outward. This bulging can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
- Thickened Spinal Ligaments - The spine has a number of ligaments that hold vertebra together and add stability to the spine. Over time, these ligaments become thicker and cause the spinal canal to become more narrow.
- Congenital Stenosis - Less commonly, some people are born with spinal canals that are more narrow than normal. This can cause symptoms much earlier than other causes of spinal stenosis.
- Tumor - Although rare, spinal tumors can also cause spinal stenosis. As these tumors grow, they eventually begin to press against the spinal cord or nerves.
How Do You Know If You Have Stenosis?
A thorough medical history and physical examination are essential to properly diagnose spinal stenosis. As mentioned earlier, a common hallmark of lumbar stenosis is cramping in the legs when standing or walking, that is relieved by either bending over or sitting. This is a way to distinguish stenosis from other medical conditions. In addition, imaging is important to get a complete picture of the spine. X-rays can help determine the extent of osteoarthritis of the spine, and can locate bone spurs that may be causing stenosis. An MRI can give accurate measurements of the spinal canal, as can visualize the spinal cord and nerves to determine if they are affected.
Treatments For Spinal Stenosis
Studies have shown that chiropractic care can be beneficial for those with spinal stenosis. By properly aligning the spine, and making sure that the spine is moving properly, chiropractors are able to relieve pressure from the spinal nerves. Depending on the amount of degeneration present in the spine, a chiropractor can alter their technique to be more effective in helping patients with spinal stenosis. For more information on chiropractic care, click here.
Lumbar decompression has been proven effective in the treatment of lumbar stenosis. By stretching the lower back axially, from head to toe, lumbar decompression can remove pressure from the spinal discs and joints. Since most cases of stenosis involve advanced spinal degeneration, lumbar decompression is more effective than many other treatment options. For more information on lumbar decompression click here.
Similar to lumbar decompression, cervical decompression is an effective treatment option for those suffering from cervical stenosis. In our office, we use the Cervi-Trac attachment for the Back on Trac decompression table. This system allows us to not only decompress the cervical spine, but also help restore proper cervical lordosis, the normal curve of the neck, providing more relief to the spine. This separates our treatment from other offices offering cervical decompression. To learn more about cervical decompression, click here.
Suffering from spinal stenosis? Call or click here to schedule an appointment today!