Spinal stenosis is a degenerative condition characterized by narrowing of the spinal canal. The spinal canal is a tubular opening that runs most of the length of the spine and contains the spinal cord. The spinal canal is bordered by the joints of the spine (facet joints), the discs of the spine (cushions), and the intervertebral foramina (openings) through which the spinal nerves branch off the spinal cord.
Stenosis of the spinal canal can occur if arthritis causes bone of the facet joints to grow or produce spurs. Bulging or herniation of the discs can also narrow the canal. Any swelling of the nerves or soft tissue of the spine can contribute to stenosis. Misalignment of the spinal bones (vertebrae) called subluxation is a commonly overlooked cause of spinal stenosis.
The most common symptoms of neck stenosis are neck pain with numbness, pain and weakness of the upper extremities. Lower back stenosis commonly causes lower back pain with numbness, pain and weakness of the lower extremities. People with stenosis will often develop a slumped forward posture.
Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by multiple factors including overgrowth/spurring of the facet joints, disc bulging, swelling and spinal misalignment combining together to narrow the spinal canal. Overgrowth of the facet joints can only be corrected surgically. However, frequently stenosis can be relieved by reducing one or more of the other factors. Applying cold packs to the spine or taking anti-inflammatory medications can reduce swelling. Traction can reduce disc bulging. Chiropractic spinal manipulation (adjustments) can reduce narrowing of the available spinal canal.
Conservative treatment will often relieve spinal stenosis making surgery unnecessary.
Dr. W. Patrick Danzey is director of the Avon Park Chiropractic Clinic and inventor of the Axial Trac Spinal Traction System.