The human spine is a complex system made out of several cylindrical-shaped bones stacked upon one another. In-between each one of them there is a jelly-like structure called an intervertebral disc, that plays a role in shock absorption for the spine.
At the back of the vertebrae (looking outward and not towards the internal organs), there are a number of joints, processes and lamina attached to each vertebra, which create a hollow passage, called the spinal canal. The spinal cord passes through here and various nerve roots branch out from openings on the side of each vertebra. Various conditions can affect the spine and cause symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and mobility difficulties.
Spinal stenosis is one such condition and it affects the hollow passage within the spine, which becomes obstructed and as a result the space available for other structures, such as spinal nerves or even the spinal cord. The space within this passage is diminished and as such it can place pressure on the spine.
It can affect any region of the spine, but it is most prevalent in the cervical and lumbar spine, respectively. Depending on the region that it affects, the disorder can also be referred to as lumbar stenosis or lumbar spinal stenosis if it occurs in the lumbar spine, thoracic stenosis if it occurs in the thoracic spine, and cervical stenosis if it occurs in the cervical spine.
The spinal canal can become narrower due to a number of factors. Most commonly, it can occur due to:
- A bulging or herniated disc that protrudes towards the canal itself, rather than sideways. As such, it can obstruct the path of nerve roots passing through that specific opening in-between the vertebrae.
- Degenerative changes that occur within the spine due to the aging process, which exposes the spine to wear and tear processes along the years. These changes themselves can cause the spine’s shape to become altered, and one way is that the spinal canal becomes narrower.
- Birth defects can be responsible in some cases, as some people may be born with a narrower passage to begin with.
- The formation of bone spurs that grow in the direction or even directly into the spinal canal itself, pressing against any nerve roots that may branch out from that particular segment.
- Injuries to the spine that alter its shape.
While the narrowing of the passage itself may not cause symptoms, its effects can have severe negative consequences. Some of them include:
- Nerve pinching, which is one of the most common effects of spinal stenosis.
- Neck pain, tingling sensations and numbness, when the stenosis occurs in the cervical spine.
- Pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the lower back and legs, when the lumbar spine is affected.
- Difficulties walking.
- Spinal cord pinching, which can lead to a series of severe symptoms, such as loss of bladder or bowel control, which require immediate medical attention.
Diagnosis and Treatments
Spinal stenosis treatment and pain management options may vary depending on the spine section that was affected. However, one or more of the following methods are typically employed to manage the pain and other symptoms caused by spinal stenosis:
- Pain relieving medication or spinal injections to ease the pain temporarily.
- Physical therapy to try and improve spinal mobility and range of motion.
- Stretching and engaging in light exercise to relax and strengthen the spine.
- Lifestyle changes such as maintaining or getting to a healthy weight. Carrying additional weight on your body places increased physical stress on the spine as a result.
- As a last resort, spinal surgery (such as a laminectomy, spinal fusion, or spinal stenosis surgery) may be considered as an option where more conservative treatment methods have failed to provide the desired effect.
Alternatively, you can use a natural and nonsurgical treatments to fix spinal stenosis pain, while addressing the root cause of the problem, helping you prevent it from returning in the future. That method is called spinal decompression therapy.
In essence, this method stretches out your spine, adding back the space in-between each vertebra. It can be performed from home with the help of a special orthopaedic device called the Spinal Backrack. It targets the entire spine, providing decompression to all three major regions of the spine, allowing for lumbar decompression, thoracic decompression and cervical decompression as well.