Spinal stenosis is, in most cases, the end result of age catching up with our spines. Whether the ultimate cause is a ligament expanding to infiltrate the spinal canal and press against the nerve bundle inside, a cartilage disc growing old and thin over time and thus allowing two vertebra to pinch the spinal cord, or whether it’s all thanks to an unnatural cause like spinal cancer or a birth defect, spinal stenosis can cause a lot of pain and weakness in the bodies of those who suffer from it.
Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including:
- Tingling sensations
- Loss of feeling
- Loss of control
- Persistent pain
Spinal stenosis also occurs in one of two areas: most often it’s in the lumbar bones of the lower back, but around one in four cases involve the cervical vertebrae of the neck and head. As for the thoracic vertebrae in the middle, they’re usually too stuck in place by the rib cage to bother the spinal cord much.
The Treatments For Spinal Stenosis
Once a doctor has correctly diagnosed you with spinal stenosis, there really isn’t much you can do to get rid of it. Even if it isn’t the result of aging, it’s very likely that whatever caused your stenosis won’t be going anywhere without some invasive surgery at the very least. Still, there are a number of things you can do to either mitigate the pain and symptoms of spinal stenosis or else slow down its progress.
It really is that simple. Many patients with lumbar stenosis find that they feel better by leaning further forward than usual, an action which reduces the stress the vertebrae may happen to place on the spinal cord. This also happens to be one reason why walkers and canes happen to be popular with the senior citizen crowd: they allow them to maintain their forward-leaning posture while standing up without any risk of tipping over.
It can be awfully tempting to give in to the pain and simply avoid any sort of exercise that may irritate your stenosis. That’s what pain is supposed to do, after all – it’s meant to stop you from doing something that will cause significant harm to your body. In this case, however, lowering your activity level isn’t the best of ideas, as weaker muscles and an even smaller range of motion will only make your condition worse. Instead, you should pursue endurance and flexibility exercises (under the careful watch of a physical therapist or a good chiropractor) to ensure that what’s left of your spine and the muscles surrounding it are in the best shape possible. You may be surprised by just how far you can get on nothing more than good posture with proper weight distribution and regular exercise.
There aren’t any pills that can directly improve your spinal stenosis outlook, but there are a few which can treat some of its symptoms.
- Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Pinched nerve bundles tend to get inflamed, so non-prescription painkillers like ibuprofen can go a long way towards reducing back and osteoarthritis pain, the latter being a common cause of spinal stenosis.
- Antidepressants. Several varieties of antidepressant also have painkilling properties.
- Muscle relaxants. A common symptom of spinal stenosis is muscle spasms, and relaxants can keep them calm.
- Opioids. There are no painkillers like narcotic painkillers, but unfortunately they all carry a risk of addiction no matter how strong or weak the particular drug happens to be.
- Steroid Injections
If NSAIDs aren’t enough, it may be time to turn to the full-on steroid anti-inflammatories. By injecting cortisone directly into the site of the pinched spinal cord, it’s possible to reduce the pain and other symptoms of spinal stenosis for at least a little while. Unfortunately, steroid injections don’t work in every case, and too much cortisone in too short a period can weaken the bones and other nearby tissue, making the problem even worse.
If nothing else is working, and if you are entirely disabled by your spinal stenosis or if you’re at risk of complete paralysis, then it may be time to consider a spinal surgery. There are actually several different surgery options available depending on the exact cause and requirement of your stenosis:
- Laminectomy. This procedure removes some or all of the rear section of your vertebra, the part of the bone that protects the spinal cord from the back. It may also involve cutting away any bits of ligament which have infiltrated the spinal canal.
- Laminoplasty. This surgery only applies to cases of cervical stenosis. Instead of cutting away the rear part of the vertebrae entirely, one side is cut and then held open with a grafted metal plate.
- Laminotomy. Instead of removing or cutting off sections of the spine, this relatively simple procedure simply carves a hole into the side of a vertebra to relieve any pressure that builds up in that particular spot.
Most Of The Above
Assuming you don’t jump straight to surgery, an option that’s not only expensive but also extremely dangerous considering what just one misstep could do to your ability to walk, your best bet for treatment is most likely going to be a comprehensive combination of all of the above. There’s the strength and flexibility exercises foremost, of course, but you can also manage what pain remains with NSAIDs and change your usual routine to avoid aggravating your permanent injury.
And as far as the exercises go, you may be in better hands with a reputable chiropractor than an ordinary physical therapist. Chiropractic focuses on the spine, and chiropractic biophysical exercises may be just what you need to strengthen your back muscles and keep your spine properly aligned to minimize the stress you place on your lumbar region.
If you live in the Vancouver area and you’d like to get an idea about what chiropractic can do for you, you should visit Dr. Stuart Kilian of Advantage Chiropractic. Don’t forget that you can and should take an active role in deciding what kind of health care works best for you.