Your spine is a chain of 24 bony vertebrae, each connected by facet joints and separated by an intervertebral disc, a compressible material that acts as a shock absorber when you move. The whole column forms a hollow tube called the spinal canal, which contains the spinal cord and other associated nerves. Peripheral nerves exit the canal between vertebrae and extend to other parts of the body.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal column, which reduces the amount of space for the nerves. If the space narrows too much, the bony structures can press on the nerve roots, causing radiating pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness in a limb.
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, osteopathic physician Dr. Richard Bernstein sees many cases of back pain stemming from spinal stenosis at his practice in Capitola, California. Here, he describes who’s at risk for developing stenosis, as well as what he can do to relieve your pain.
Am I at risk for spinal stenosis?
The biggest risk factor for spinal stenosis is getting older. Most people who develop the condition are over the age of 50. While it’s possible that degenerative changes can lead to stenosis in younger people, other causes, such as trauma, a congenital spinal deformity like scoliosis, or a genetic disease that affects bone and muscle development, are more likely in this population. Spinal imaging can identify the exact cause of your problem.
Causes of spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis can occur for many reasons, most of them age related. Here are three of the major causes.
1. Spinal osteoarthritis (OA)
Arthritis is an inflammatory joint condition, and there are over 100 different types. OA results from the normal wear-and-tear of a joint over a long period of time, which is why it’s mostly seen in people over 50.
Normally, smooth cartilage covers the facet joints in your spine, but with constant movement, it starts to break down. Without that protection, the vertebral bones rub against each other, causing pain, inflammation, and the development of bone spurs. The spurs can extend into the canal space, narrowing it; they can also narrow the foramina, the openings in the spinal column where the nerves exit. Such narrowing compresses nerve roots, causing further, radiating pain.
2. Degenerative disc disease (DDD)
DDD is also a wear-and-tear condition, but it affects the intervertebral discs, not the bones. Over time, the discs begin to dehydrate, flatten out, and lose their ability to absorb shock. The flattening narrows the space inside the spinal column as well as the foramina. The discs may ooze out into the spinal canal, further compressing nerves. In addition, the disc degeneration puts more pressure on the facet joints, compounding arthritis wear-and-tear.
3. Ankylosing spondylitis
Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory disease. It’s more common in men than women, and it usually starts as an early adult and progresses over time. As part of the body’s attempt to heal, it forms new bone tissue, which gradually bridges the gap between vertebrae and eventually fuses them together, narrowing the canal space. The affected regions of the spine become stiff and inflexible.
In addition, some people’s bones weaken during the early stages of the disease, leading to compression fractures as the bone collapses in on itself. These fractures can put pressure on spinal nerves, causing damage and pain.
Three effective treatments for spinal stenosis
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, we offer three different but effective treatments for spinal stenosis. Dr. Bernstein determines which one (or combination) is best for you based on your medical history and the results of a physical exam and imaging tests.
1. Osteopathic manual medicine (OMM)
OMM is a physical, hands-on technique in which Dr. Bernstein manipulates your body to relieve pain and improve function. This painless treatment includes stretching, light pressure, and resistance exercises.
2. Regenerative medicine
Dr. Bernstein places stem cells around damaged tissue like worn-out spinal discs. The stem cells, which have the ability to morph into any cell type, can replace damaged tissues, reduce local inflammation, and relieve pain.
3. Spinal decompression therapy
SpineMED® is a spinal decompression therapy that relieves pressure within your spinal discs. It uses gentle mechanical vertebrae separation to restore the blood flow needed to heal the injured areas and relieve pressure on impinged nerves.
If you’ve got radiating pain from your neck into your arms or your back into your legs, spinal stenosis may be the culprit. Fortunately, Santa Cruz Osteopathic can help. Give us a call at 831-464-1605 to set up a consultation with Dr. Bernstein, or book online with us today.