The spinal canal is a continuous tube-like structure that runs along the inside of our spine from the base of the skull all the way to the base of our spine at the sacrum. This canal provides a protective, yet flexible structure to carry and safeguard our important and delicate spinal cord as well as nerve tissues that branch off from the cord.
One common condition which can have very serious impacts on your body’s health and function is called spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal which we just discussed.
Left untreated, the condition can compress the spinal cord and/or spinal nerve roots and result in a wide range of possible conditions such as back or leg pain, muscle spasms, arm or leg weakness, numbness or tingling in the extremities or even shrinking of muscle tissues in some cases. Reason enough to visit a chiropractor for treatment.
What are the Spinal Cord and the Spinal Canal?
The spinal cord is a long tube-like structure that runs from the end of the brain stem down to the bottom of the spine. Together, the spinal cord and brain make up the central nervous system (CNS). It consists of nerves that are responsible for carrying incoming and outgoing messages between the brain and the rest of the body. The spinal cord is contained within the spinal canal, which runs through the centre of the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs when the nerve root becomes compressed as it exits the spinal canal due to a disc herniation or bone spurs.
Osteoarthritis is considered the most common cause of spinal stenosis. Osteoarthritis can be the result of wear and tear, physical stress, or repetitive injuries. The condition can also develop due to inactivity. If you live a sedentary life, you have a much higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Over time, osteoarthritis can lead to the development of bone spurs and irritation of surrounding ligaments and tissues. This chronic tissue irritation can cause these ligaments to enlarge over time, thus narrowing the spinal canal. The narrowing will eventually lead to pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerves (i.e. spinal stenosis)
While osteoarthritis is the most prevalent cause of spinal stenosis, the following may also influence the development of the condition:
- Poor posture or spine mechanics
- Spine injury
- Cysts or tumors
- Disc herniation or degeneration
- Previous surgery
- Thickened ligaments
While we will all experience some degree of wear and tear as we age, it is not a foregone conclusion that we must degenerate at a certain rate or end up in a state of pain. Maintaining proper biomechanics of the spine, joints and tissues of the body can greatly minimise the occurrence of osteoarthritis as we age and decrease your chances of ending up with a condition like spinal stenosis.
The lower back is the most common area where patients experience canal narrowing. Common symptoms of spinal stenosis include:
- Pain, numbness or tingling in the feet and legs
- Abnormal bowel and bladder function
- Pain when walking
- Leg cramping
- Loss of sexual function
- Experiences relief when leaning or sitting forward
Spinal stenosis of the neck is less common. However, it could potentially be more dangerous in some situations if left untreated. If you suffer from spinal stenosis of the neck, it is possible that you will experience some of the symptoms mentioned above, alongside the following:
- Body weakness or numbness
- Radiating pain
- Tingling of the hands and arms
- Partial paralysis
- Complete paralysis
It is possible that you can be born with a naturally occurring spinal stenosis.; however, it is very rare. People in their 50s who live a sedentary lifestyle make up the largest group suffering from this condition.
If you have spinal stenosis, your nerve roots or your spinal cord may be compressed. That means an important component of your nervous system may no longer be able to transmit messages as effectively.
The good news is that our chiropractors are highly qualified to diagnose as well as treat this condition, so you will not only feel relief but more importantly will learn how to best manage this condition over the long term.
Many patients visiting us who have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis are often looking for a way to manage their condition without surgery. Depending on the amount of damage present, the patient’s age, and symptoms we may be able to treat them conservatively. However, in cases that are too far gone, we may refer them for a surgical consultation should it be outside our scope of practice.
Patients suffering from spinal stenosis who do not need or want surgery often visit their chiropractor to ensure the condition does not get worse. While reversing damage associated with the condition may take time, it is reassuring the know your chiropractor can slow down the progression of the condition significantly.
In general, chiropractic care focuses on identifying and correcting dysfunction in the normal movement and alignment of the joints and tissues of the spine and body as a whole. Chiropractors appreciate that when dysfunction in the mechanics of the body (and especially the spine) are present, it will have a negative impact on the function of the nerve system which the spine is protecting.
Thus any treatments or techniques which can relieve pressure on the nervous system will greatly help those suffering from spinal stenosis, as well as a range of other conditions.
After you have been diagnosed, our chiropractors will apply a variety of techniques to restore proper mechanics, release tight muscles and other tissues, relieve nerve compression, and begin to restore proper mobility.
- Non-surgical spinal decompression (NSSD). Our modern generation decompression machines use state-of-the-art algorithms to gently, safely, and effectively reduce crowding within the spinal canal caused by degenerative disc disease (bulging or “slipped disc”) and inflammation of surrounding tissues.
- Specific spinal manipulation. This gentle thrusting technique (often with associated “popping” or “clicking” sounds) has been known to effectively restore joint movement and reduce pain.
- Whole body vibration (WBV). High frequency vertical vibration with the body in a flexed position can help with allowing tissues to relax and decreasing pressure on the nerves.
- Low-level laser therapy (LLLT). Also known as cold laser therapy, LLLT has been shown to reduce inflammation, help minimise pain, and accelerate the body’s natural healing process.
- Physiotherapy. Critical to restoring proper long-term movement patterns, posture and reducing the likelihood of relapse.
If you or someone you know is suffering from the above problems, or you’ve been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, come down for a consultation with our doctors to see if you are a good candidate for our modern treatments without the use of drugs or surgery.
Author: Dr. Michael Bryant