Spinal stenosis is a condition that develops in your spine over time. You may not know you have a problem until the disease has progressed. While spinal stenosis generally doesn’t move fast enough to be much of a risk, it can be painful and challenging to live with.
This guide will give you a quick overview of the condition and answer any questions you may have about it, such as, “Can a chiropractor help with spinal stenosis?”
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a condition that results from pressure or pinching of the spinal cord. The following health conditions can lead to spinal stenosis:
- Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. With this condition, the cartilage in the spine breaks down, leaving only bone behind. The leftover bone may rub together and result in bone spurs.
- Herniated disks. When a spinal disc becomes cracked, shattered, or dislodged, it can begin to pinch the spinal nerve. It often happens because the spinal disc is degenerating already in the first place.
- Aging. Aging is one of the leading causes of spinal stenosis because our spines naturally deteriorate as we get older.
- Bone tumors. If you develop bone cancer that comes into contact with your spine, this may pinch it and become stenosis.
- Scoliosis. If you were born with an abnormally-shaped spine, it might contribute to your spinal stenosis risk.
- Paget’s disease. If you have Pager’s disease, your bones don’t form properly, contributing to spinal stenosis.
- Achondroplasia. Achondroplasia is a form of dwarfism that can be especially susceptible to spinal stenosis.
- Spinal injuries. If you broke or otherwise injured your spine in an accident, it may heal differently and cause spinal stenosis.
- Genetic factors. If you’re born with a narrow spinal column, you may develop spinal stenosis naturally over time.
Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
Spinal stenosis symptoms are generally very mild and rarely do people end up with lasting effects. Spinal stenosis typically causes numbness, tingling, balance issues, weakness, and pain. The pain, weakness, and numbness may grow depending on the severity of the condition.
The symptoms that you may see with spinal stenosis change depending on where the stenosis originates. Spinal stenosis generally originates from either the cervical (neck) vertebrae or the lumbar (lower back) vertebrae. In some cases, both areas will display symptoms.
As you might assume, those with lumbar stenosis generally feel more numbness and pain in their lower body, especially their legs. Leg cramping is also possible with this disease. With cervical stenosis, patients often feel pain and numbness in the neck or arms, and they may experience balance issues.
Spinal Stenosis Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor will typically use a CT scan or MRI to diagnose spinal stenosis. You should alert your doctor as soon as you notice any unusual symptoms. While this disease is unlikely to leave you with any long-lasting health effects if caught early, the earlier you tell your doctor, the earlier your doctor can stop its progression.
Medical professionals can sometimes treat spinal stenosis by widening the spine to release pressure on pinched nerves. However, if spinal stenosis is allowed to progress without treatment, it can rarely leave you with permanent numbness, weakness, paralysis, balance problems, and incontinence, depending on which nerves become pinched.
Before recommending surgery, most doctors will attempt non-invasive treatment methods first. Physical therapy and slight modification of the activities you take part in at home are often enough to lessen spinal stenosis’s pain and discomfort. However, if the pain and numbness continue to progress, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
If activity modification and physical therapy alone aren’t enough to treat your spinal stenosis, you can try taking some OTC drugs to help, too. In particular, acetaminophen and NSAIDs are the best non-invasive treatments for spinal stenosis. Patience can alternatively receive an epidural steroid to reduce inflammation if necessary.
You can usually address pain and numbness with physical therapy in combination with other treatments. Generally, the patient’s doctor will prescribe supervised physical therapy at first. Once this period ends, you will need to keep performing these exercises outside of directed sessions.
Those with spinal stenosis need to stay active, even if it’s painful or awkward at first. Remaining inactive and sedentary will only increase your chances of long-term harmful effects and further decrease your mobility.
Can a chiropractor help with spinal stenosis? Answers aren’t conclusive, but the results show that chiropractic adjustments may help alleviate symptoms according to medical studies.
Prescribed alongside physical therapy is activity modification. If a doctor tells a patient to seek physical therapy, for example, but the patient cannot carry those habits after supervised treatment ends, the results will not last. Instead, sufferers of spinal stenosis must work these new physical therapy techniques (and movements to avoid, too) into their daily lives.
The main recommendation for activity modification is to avoid positions and movements that trigger stenosis symptoms. For example, if bending over to pick something up off the ground triggers your symptoms, your doctor might recommend that you bend your knees to retrieve the item instead of your back.
Spinal Stenosis Surgery
Spinal stenosis surgery is relatively simple. The operation is often called a “Laminectomy.” In it, your surgeon will remove approximately two laminae and their spinous processes. This surgery aims to allow the spinal cord to relax and decompress by removing some of the bone compressing it.
Can a Chiropractor Help With Spinal Stenosis?
According to medical research, chiropractors can help treat the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Whether a chiropractor can help you depends on the severity of your condition, the treatment you require, and the underlying cause of your spinal stenosis.
Before your chiropractor can do useful work, they must diagnose the cause of your condition. Your chiropractor may do this, or they may refer you to another medical professional who can run further tests.
The difference between chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy is that your chiropractor will focus on adjusting and mobilizing both your limbs and your spine, two key areas where spinal stenosis symptoms can manifest. These treatments can result in increased movement, decreased pain and numbness, better posture, and less muscle tightness.
Spinal stenosis is an inconvenient condition to develop, but fortunately, it tends to be relatively mild and easy to treat. While surgery is always an option to correct the worst cases, most patients will be okay with some targeted physical therapy and lifestyle changes.
Can a chiropractor help with spinal stenosis? A chiropractor will help with physical therapy and rehabilitation, but they specialize in non-invasive adjustments, so they may not help if invasive surgery is necessary. You should seek a doctor’s advice for diagnosis and initial treatment.
If you find that you have any of the spinal stenosis symptoms listed in this guide, it’s essential to call your doctor right away. We mentioned that spinal stenosis is usually mild, but just like with any disease, if it’s allowed to grow out of control, the harm it can do to your body will grow, too.