Have you been told that you have spinal stenosis? If so, you’re not alone. Spinal stenosis becomes common as we age, and it’s the number one reason people over the age of 65 have spinal surgery. Surgery isn’t the only option to treat stenosis, however, especially if you start on treatment early!
What is stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a term used to describe a narrowing of the spinal canal that gives rise to symptoms of compression of the spinal nerves or sometimes the spinal cord. Narrowing that affects the spinal cord is also sometimes called myelopathy. That compression, or pinching, of your spinal cord, can occur for a number of reasons – disc herniation is a major one, but a bone spur or ligament overgrowth could also be a factor.
The most common symptoms experienced are (surprise, surprise!) back pain and leg pain. The pain can be nonspecific (meaning that it does not seem to have a specific cause or time at which it is worse) but often pain from stenosis occurs as you walk, and may be more noticeable as a sense of numbness, weakness or unsteadiness, sometimes in both legs sometimes in just one.
When this kind of issue occurs in the legs, the term Claudication is typically used to describe the problem – in those suffering from Claudication, it’s usual to be able to walk a short distance before needing to rest due to the pain and stiffness. Most find that sitting down or leaning forward enables them to recover so that they can then walk again.
While any kind of spinal pain, especially pain which radiates into the extremities can be frustrating and distracting, stenosis can often be more of an issue, since it can (as described above) make it hard just to get up and out, and to live life normally. For those suffering from Claudiation, walking itself can be a challenge, however severe pinching in your neck can also cause issues with the arms, which may make everyday tasks difficult, or painful.
This being said, stenosis is considered a “quality of life” issue – while the condition can be painful, and certainly inconvenient, it isn’t generally considered for medical intervention unless your symptoms are bad enough to significantly impact on your life.
The prognosis for stenosis varies – one common estimate is that about one in five patients will improve without treatment, one in five will worsen and three in five remain about the same. Therefore, it’s unlikely to improve on its own without some treatment, although it may not get worse.
Fundamentally, the best approach to treating stenosis – at least as a first port of call – is to strengthen the body, improve fitness and overall health. If the pain is still an issue after this point, it might be time to look at a more invasive treatment.
While chiropractic often won’t be able to help those with a severe case, it can be an excellent tool for those otherwise trying to overcome the condition through exercise and strengthening. Fundamentally, the objective of stenosis treatment is to is to open up the spinal canal and take the pressure off the nerves and spinal cord – an exercise and fitness approach tries to do this through manual work, whereas surgery will attempt to do the same thing through modifying the spinal cord itself or removing bone which is causing the stenosis. Many chiropractic techniques focus especially on decreasing the pressure on your spinal cord, which, in turn, can help to relieve the symptoms associated with spinal stenosis.
After beginning chiropractic care, many patients with less severe stenosis report an improvement in their overall quality of life – for many, chiropractic care can also help to increase their range of motion, which in turn can permit them to exercise more often and in a better way – this, in turn, can allow them to build up the ability to walk further without pain, meaning that their stenosis becomes much more manageable.
If you’re suffering from stenosis, it’s worth starting some form of treatment right way – since whichever route you pick, it’s likely to take a while before you see some significant improvement.