Spinal stenosis is painful for people to live with. While medications may mask the symptoms, chiropractic care may be more helpful for those who suffer from this condition.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
When the spinal column narrows and puts pressure on the spinal cord, spinal stenosis occurs. It tends to happen with age, as the disks of the spine bulge. Ligaments and bones in the spine thicken, due to arthritis or inflammation. Other disorders, including some bone diseases, herniated disks, injuries, and tumors can also cause spinal stenosis. The symptoms are progressive, and they can involve one or both sides of the body. Patients may have numbness in the limbs, back, or neck, as well as weakness. It is worse when patients stand or walk; sitting or leaning may alleviate some of the symptoms. Over time, spinal stenosis can lead to poor balance and even difficulties controlling bowels and urination.1
Physical therapy is generally the first course of action recommended, where the PT will use stretches to reduce pain, and they will teach the patient exercises. Patients can also seek massage therapy and acupuncture for this condition. Heat and cold therapy may also be employed. There are also various medications that can be prescribed, but all medications carry the risk of side effects.2 Typical prescriptions include NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.), muscle relaxants, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and opioids (oxycodone, Vicodin, etc.). The latter category can lead to dependence and serious addiction problems.3 Some doctors may recommend surgery, especially when patients become too numb or immobilized. Even after surgery, pain can remain, and spinal fusion, formaminotomy, and laminectomy may not resolve the situation. Patients may even be referred for multiple surgeries, as each one alone may not be permanently helpful. Spinal surgery can lead the back to become more stressed.4
Research has shown the “chiropractic treatment is about as effective as conventional, nonoperative treatments for acute back pain”. This is good news for patients with spinal stenosis, as chiropractic care doesn’t carry the side effects and risks of medication. Chiropractic adjustments of the spinal column can resolve alignment issues and reduce pressure on the nerves by increasing the space between the vertebrae.5 Chiropractic treatment should be sought early on, when the patient first feels the pain, not after years of degeneration, in order to have the most rapid treatment outcome.6 In other words, the earlier the better. In general, the chiropractic therapy options can include flexion distraction therapy, drop table therapy, manual soft tissue manipulation, heat therapy, electric muscle stimulation, and therapeutic ultrasound. In addition, some DCs may recommend that patients use supplements and herbs to treat the inflammation.7