Natural Treatments for Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a condition whose effects can range from mild irritation to debilitating pain and even paralysis. Learning the symptoms, causes and treatment options may help you avoid drugs and surgery.
Stenosis can occur in either the cervical spine in the neck or the lumbar spine in the lower back. Lumbar stenosis is the more common; according to Spine-Health.com, about three-fourths of all cases occur in the lumbar spine. Stenosis involves the compression of nerve roots that exit the spinal canal. There are three types, named for the location of compression:
1) Formainal: The foramen is the space through which a nerve leaves the spinal canal. This is the most common type of spinal stenosis; it occurs when bone spurs, which develop along a vertebra due to disc degeneration, compress the nerve. Discs act as shock absorbers. As they degenerate, bone friction causes tiny shards of bone to develop.
2) Far Lateral: This type of stenosis occurs beyond the foramen. Compression can be caused by a bulging or herniated disc, or by a bone spur.
3) Central: This involves obstruction of the nerves within the spinal canal. It is generally caused by a bulging disc and ligament overgrowth within the spine.
Cervical stenosis is generally considered a more dangerous condition than when it occurs in the lumbar spine. This is because the spinal cord, that dense bundle of nerves, is present in the upper spine but ends in the upper part of the lower back. From there, the nerves fan out into a horse’s tail pattern, hence acquiring the name “cauda equina.” There is more risk of paralysis associated with impingement of the spinal cord. That said, lumbar stenosis can, in rare cases, involve severe nerve damage that leads to bladder and bowel loss of control, sexual dysfunction and inability to walk.
Bone spurs formed due to facet joint arthritis may also impinge nerves, causing stenosis.
Spinal stenosis often causes localized back or neck pain and refers pain to either the legs or the arms. There may also be tingling, weakness and numbness along the affected nerve’s pathway. People with lumbar stenosis often have sciatica.
One way to tell if stenosis is causing your pain is to monitor when symptoms reside. People with this condition experience relief when sitting and leaning forward, as these positions create more space in the spinal canal and take pressure off nerves. Imaging tests such as MRIs, CTs and dye injection may be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Light, guided exercise is often prescribed to strengthen the muscles that support the spine and to maintain cardiovascular health, which ensures proper blood flow to areas of the spine. Exercises for lumbar stenosis usually involve forward bending. Examples of such exercises can be seen at http://spinalstenosis.org/blog/sciatica-exercises/. Cervical stenosis patients may perform isometric exercises which strengthen neck muscles without stressing joints. Exercise helps support the spine and manage pain. A physical therapist should guide you through what exercises are safe for you.
Chiropractic care can help your symptoms if a misaligned spine is aggravating your condition. Restoring alignment will take pressure off of discs and nerves.
Chiropractors can also perform decompression treatments, which increase disc space and can resolve stenosis caused by herniated or bulging discs.
Acupuncture and acupressure are alternative treatments that have had immense success in relieving pain of many types. They both involve the application of stimulus, either needle points or touch, to energy meridians, which some in Western culture equate with nerve bundles. It is worth a try for anyone looking to avoid reliance on pain medication.
Surgery is only recommended for people with severe stenosis that poses a threat to the spinal cord or the patient’s ability to walk or control bladder and bowels.
Knowing the cause of your pain equips you to make smart choices about your treatment options. If you have back or neck pain that radiates and is relieved by sitting and leaning forward, you may have spinal stenosis. Share this information with your doctor and improve your chances of pain relief.