Spinal Stenosis Is Common In The Elderly

What Is Spinal Stenosis

Ideally, no two bones in your body should ever come into direct contact with one another.  They may fit together very closely, but there’s always a thin layer of cartilage to act as a cushion and any direct connections are made by ligaments and tendons whose motions are controlled by your muscles.

This cushion serves two purposes:  when the bones on either side are pressing together, it prevents them from rubbing together and therefore grinding down into powder.  But when the bones move apart, the cartilage (along with a special mixture of fluids and gasses) expands to fill the space, preventing any sort of unwanted fluids from rushing in and causing the joint to stick in place.

When you crack your knuckles or your back, the sound comes from the sudden release of gasses from your joint cushions because you stretched the joint farther than it normally goes.  But don’t worry that this might cause arthritis – your cracked joints will fill back up with gasses soon enough.

The Effects Of Age On The Spine

Unfortunately, while a young, healthy body will have plenty of cartilage, fluid, and gas to keep individual bones from grating on each other, this stops being true for a lot of people as they grow older.  “Stenosis” refers to any sort of abnormal narrowing of a channel in the body, and spinal stenosis is specifically about the narrowing of the spinal canal through which the spinal cord runs.

The most frequent cause of spinal stenosis is age, and the way it takes effect can be a combination of many factors:  connecting ligaments may grow thick and intrude into the spinal canal, osteoarthritis may cause the cartilage discs between each vertebra to shrink and cause the bones to put pressure on the column, or the bones themselves may start to break down thanks to osteoporosis or a similar degenerative disorder.  Other potential causes include:

  • Genetic disorders
  • Birth defects
  • Spinal infections or inflammations
  • Spinal tumors
  • Severe trauma

Spinal stenosis mainly occurs in one of two regions of the body, and its effects can vary based on location.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Lumbar Stenosis

Around 75 percent of all spinal stenosis cases occur in the lower back, or the lumbar region of the spine.  This is likely because your lower back holds the most weight of any part of your spine, although lumbar stenosis may be exacerbated if you frequently sit in chairs with poor lumbar support.  Because your spine or the ligaments along your spine are effectively pinching your nerve bundle, symptoms include a persistent tingling along your legs and lower torso, numbness, random flashes of hot and cold, and a general inability to fully control the lower half of your body.

Lumbar stenosis also happens to mimic the effects of chronic venous insufficiency, a condition where the veins in your lower body stop moving blood back upwards properly, causing it to pool in your legs and press against the nerve connections and muscles.  This is another condition that frequently crops up with age, so it’s important to investigate both your blood flow and the condition of your spine if you experience these symptoms.

Cervical Stenosis

Much less common than lumbar stenosis, cervical stenosis is what it’s called when the spinal column pinch occurs in the vertebrae of your neck.  The symptoms are the same as lumbar stenosis, but they affect your whole body, which makes it a much more dangerous condition.  If it’s left untreated, cervical stenosis may lead to a degenerative weakness or even full-body paralysis.

Treatment Options

Spinal stenosis can vary significantly in the strength of its effects.  Some people may be diagnosable with spinal stenosis but be completely free of symptoms, and they may remain symptom free throughout the rest of their lives.  However, some of the less fortunate may face paralysis if they don’t do anything about their problem.

That’s why there are a variety of treatment options available for those who suffer from spinal stenosis.  From least to most drastic, these treatments include:

  1. Behavior Modification

    It may not be possible to cure or reverse spinal stenosis, but a patient with this condition can at least take steps to keep it from getting worse.  This includes avoiding any activity that puts pressure or weight on the spine, using a cane or a walker when moving about, using painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs to keep pain to a minimum, and epidural injections of cortisone which provide a temporary cushion space for the spinal cord.

  2. Chiropractic And Physical Therapy

    With regular exercise, proper stretching, and expert spinal manipulation by a chiropractor or a physical therapist, you can reduce the symptoms of spinal stenosis and at the very least slow down the disease’s progression.It may also be possible to go beyond slowing spinal stenosis down, at least if you get started early enough.  Poor posture habits often place excess stress on your spine, stress which can speed up the natural decay of vertebra and particularly the cartilage discs which keep them safely cushioned.  You can correct bad posture through the application of chiropractic biophysics, or CBP, a practice which chiropractors use to train their patients into maintaining the scientifically ideal triple curve.  And while good posture can’t guarantee that you won’t get spinal stenosis, it can at least slow down the disease’s onset and symptoms.

  3. Surgery

    Surgery is something of a nuclear option, especially considering the advanced age of most patients who suffer from spinal stenosis.  However, surgery is sometimes the only real solution when the alternative is full paralysis.  A surgeon can perform a laminectomy and remove part of the vertebra that’s causing the squeezing pressure, or else cut away the excess ligaments that are worming their way into the spinal canal.  Either way, it fixes the problem directly but with the usual risks and costs of open surgery.

If you have spinal stenosis and you’re not ready to face the surgeon’s scalpel, then you may be able to improve your condition with regular visits to a chiropractor.  And if you live in the Vancouver area, you ought to schedule your visit with Dr. Stuart Killian of Advantage Chiropractic.

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