Spinal stenosis occurs when the spaces between your vertebrae become narrowed or otherwise compromised in some way. This reduction in space puts undue pressure on the nerves that run up and down the spine, often causing extreme pressure and pain. Most commonly, people experience spinal stenosis in their neck or lower back.
There are two different types of spinal stenosis you should be aware of. Classified by its location on the spine, each type can have equally damaging consequences if left untreated. Moreover, it’s possible for a person to have both types of spinal stenosis. Knowing the two types and the causes for both can help you reduce your risk.
The two main types of stenosis are as follows:
- Lumbar Stenosis – As the most commonly experienced form of spinal stenosis, this type is categorized by a narrowing in the lower back, or lumbar region.
- Cervical Stenosis – Not nearly as common but equally as painful, this type of spinal stenosis is categorized by a narrowing in the far upper back, or neck region.
Each type has unique symptoms in that they are central to the location of the spinal narrowing. In other words, you will experience the same kinds of pains and discomforts but they will be in a different area depending on the type of spinal stenosis you have.
The Main Symptoms
Interestingly enough, spinal stenosis isn’t always characterized by pain or discomfort. In fact, some people don’t experience any symptoms at all. While that may seem like a good thing, untreated spinal stenosis can create bigger problems for you in the future. It’s vital to have a chiropractor perform routine treatments to ensure proper spinal alignment.
Those who do have stenosis symptoms typically experience things like:
- Severe back or neck pain
- Tingling sensations
- Muscle feebleness
- Digestive problems
- Bad posture
- Poor balance
- Decreased range of motion
It’s important to note that stenosis symptoms tend to worsen as time passes, which means you should see a doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist as soon as you notice a problem.
What Causes Stenosis?
Mitigating your risk of developing stenosis in the first place is the best healing tip there is. In the most extreme stenosis cases, doctors typically recommend corrective surgery to boost the space between vertebrae and reduce pressure on the nerves and spinal cord. However, because stenosis is usually caused by osteoarthritis-related changes to the spine, treating osteoarthritis symptoms can lessen your suffering tremendously and, if done correctly, might also reduce your risk of developing stenosis.
What Are the Risk Factors
Knowing the risk factors can help you avoid developing spinal stenosis or prevent it from coming back once it’s been treated. Although spinal stenosis most commonly occurs in people over 50 years old, it can affect anybody of any age, sex, gender, or nationality. However, degenerative spinal changes in younger people should be examined carefully as other causes may be responsible.
Such causes which increase a young or older person’s risk of developing spinal stenosis include but aren’t always limited to the following:
- Congenital deformities
- Genetic disease
- Spinal growth
- Presence of osteo or rheumatoid arthritis
Spinal imaging is typically used by doctors and chiropractors to differentiate between the type of spinal stenosis you may have and to figure out the primary cause or causes. Once those things are determined, your treatment plan will then be devised. Rarely, extreme spinal stenosis that’s left untreated may cause permanent damage, including but not always limited to the following conditions:
- Loss of sensation
- Generalized weakness
- Problems balancing
5 Tips to Heal Spinal Stenosis Naturally
To avoid doctor’s offices and heal stenosis naturally before it gets out of hand, use these 5 simple self-care tips:
PUT DOWN THE CIGARETTES
According to recent studies, smoking tobacco can cause more health problems than many people realize. Aside from damaging the throat and lungs, cigarettes are also linked to bone health, or lack thereof. Research shows that tobacco consumption reduces bone density at an alarming rate. Over time, continually depleted bone density can lead to osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and eventually spinal stenosis.
Quitting smoking now significantly reduces your risk of numerous health problems including most musculoskeletal conditions. In fact, people who undergo spinal stenosis surgery are often urged to refrain from smoking because doing so could increase the time needed for them to recover. Put down the smokes and heal your body naturally.
We all know about the benefits of exercise on your appearance, but did you know it can reduce back pain and help to treat or prevent spinal stenosis? When done in a careful and controlled manner, exercise can provide the following 4 perks:
- It can strengthen the core muscles in your body which support the spine.
- It can help relieve pressure on facet joints and spinal discs.
- It can improve flexibility, thereby increasing mobility and alleviating joint stiffness.
- It can release mood-boosting endorphins into the blood stream – a side effect shown to relieve pain naturally.
While you may find it difficult to get moving right away, especially if you’re experiencing back or neck pain, gentle workouts performed regularly can improve your body’s functionality. Additionally, it may enhance your overall health and help you shed unwanted weight.
DROP SOME WEIGHT
Speaking of losing a few pounds, your weight plays a big role in your musculoskeletal health and thus should be considered when formulating a self-care plan for spinal stenosis. If you’re only a few pounds overweight, the impact on your spine may not be as great as if you’re morbidly obese. However, any amount of excess weight puts unnecessary pressure on your spine and joints and should therefore be monitored closely.
Dropping some weight can drastically improve your chances of living stenosis-free. Adequate physical activity (a.k.a. exercise) can help you shed unwanted pounds quickly but it does so much more than that. Working out and following a nutritious diet can make it much easier to reach your weight loss goal. Fortunately, both exercise and nutrition play a key role in your spinal health as well.
USE THE ELEMENTS
Heat and cold are commonly used to help with pain and swelling, which means they’re both ideal for treating spinal stenosis naturally. However, it’s important to understand how each element affects the body:
- Heat – Loosens up the muscles
- Cold – Combats inflammation
By using one or both on the affected area for 15-20 minutes, you should be able to treat the symptoms of spinal stenosis without taking prescription or over-the-counter medications.
HAVE GOOD POSTURE
The way you hold your body while sitting, standing, laying, walking or running is exceptionally important. According to experts, prolonged poor posture and/or inactivity can wreak havoc on your spine, bones, tendons, joints and even your internal organs. On the contrary, good posture is characterized by the proper alignment of major bones and joints.
To maintain proper posture, use the following guidelines:
- No slouching
- Maintain a straight spine
- Wear proper shoes
- Use an ergonomic pillow and/or mattress
- Sit in a chair that supports your lumbar
- Don’t look up, down or in any one direction for too long
PRO POSTURE TIP: Do stretches often and have regular chiropractic adjustments to keep your body properly aligned.
When to Seek Help
Make an appointment with a chiropractor if you’ve experienced any of the symptoms mentioned above or if your self-care treatments aren’t working. Meanwhile, make yourself aware of the possibilities. Seeking help is a big decision that should not be taken lightly.
Modern-day doctors and chiropractors who regularly treat spinal stenosis typically utilize the following treatments or procedures on patients who did not respond well to natural remedies:
- Medication – This may include the use of pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, or opioids.
- Physical Therapy – This may include scheduled appointments with a chiropractor for adjustments and/or massage.
- Steroid Injections – This involves injecting a corticosteroid into the space around the vertebrae that’s problematic. It’s important to note that steroid injections aren’t effective for everyone, plus they may result a weakening of the bones and connective tissues of the spine over time.
- Decompression – This procedure is highly invasive and involves removing a portion of the ligament in your spine to create space. Unfortunately, only people with lumbar spinal stenosis can use this treatment option.
- Surgery – When all else fails, you may have to undergo surgery to correct the problem in your spine. Surgery is not only dangerous but it may not always resolve the issue permanently. On top of that, surgical procedures can take a long time to heal and often leave your body weaker as a result.
Spinal stenosis is not a life-threatening condition, but it can certainly reduce the quality of your life if it’s left untreated. To avoid having to deal with medications, potentially damaging injections, ligament removals and surgeries, use the self-care tips listed above even if you don’t currently have pain, swelling, numbness, tingling or any of the other spinal stenosis symptoms mentioned.
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Alaska in 1998 and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.