Spinal stenosis (or narrowing of the central spinal canal) is a common condition that affects many adults 50 yrs of age and older. This occurs when the spinal canal, containing the nerve roots and spinal cord, becomes constricted or compressed. This can lead to a number of problems, depending on which nerves are affected. In general, spinal stenosis can cause cramping, pain or numbness in the legs, back, neck, shoulders and/or arms; a loss of sensation in the extremities. In rare cases, problems with bladder or bowel function can also occur. In general, spinal narrowing is caused by osteoarthritis, or "wear and tear" arthritis, of the spinal column. This results in a "pinching" of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots.
People suffering from spinal stenosis may have trouble walking any significant distance, and usually must sit or lean forward over a grocery cart, countertop or assistive device such as a walker.
Typically, a person with spinal stenosis complains about developing tremendous pain in the legs or calves and lower back after walking. Pain occurs more quickly when walking up hills. This is usually very reproducible and is almost immediately relieved by sitting down or leaning over. When the spine is flexed forward, more space is available for the spinal cord, causing a reduction in symptoms.
Spinal stenosis is usually caused by progressive degenerative changes in the spine. This is usually called "acquired spinal stenosis" and can occur from the narrowing of space around the spinal cord due to bony overgrowth (bone spurs) from osteoarthritis, combined with thickening or calcification of one or more ligaments in the back. Stenosis can also be caused by a bulge or herniation of the intervertebral discs. This must be differentiated from the stenosis caused by the bony overgrowth that can occur on the vertebral bodies, or facet joints. Spinal decompression therapy may not be appropriate in moderate to severe cases of spinal stenosis with many spurs and thickened ligaments. On the other hand, if the stenosis of the central canal is primarily from bulging discs, or herniated discs, then non-surgical spinal decompression may be very successful.
Sometimes people are born with a smaller spinal canal. This is called "congenital spinal stenosis" and may become problematic at an earlier age.
The risk of developing spinal stenosis increases in those who:
Conditions that can cause spinal stenosis include:
Typically, spinal stenosis is treated with conservative non-surgical therapies. One important therapy is exercise. Keeping the muscles of the hip, back, and legs toned allows for improved stability and will improve walking.
Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) also may be appropriate and helpful in pain relief. Cortisone injections into the epidural space, the area around the spinal cord, may provide temporary relief to people suffering from this disorder.
Non-surgical spinal decompression therapy may help those with herniated or bulging discs, lateral canal stenosis, and facet syndrome.
Under severe and rare circumstances, surgery to correct this disorder may be appropriate. In these severe cases, called cauda equine syndrome, nerves to the bladder or bowel may be affected, leading to partial or complete urinary or fecal incontinence. If you experience either of these problems, seek immediate medical care! Decompression laminectomy, which is the removal of a build-up of bony spurs or increased bone mass in the spinal canal, can free up space for the nerves and the spinal cord. However, adequate decompression of the neural elements and maintenance of bony stability are necessary for a good surgical outcome for patients with spinal stenosis.
Several studies report that surgical treatment produces better outcomes than non-surgical treatment in the short term. However, these results tend to deteriorate over time. In addition, lumbar decompressive surgery can be complicated by epidural hematoma, deep venous thrombosis, dural tear, infection, nerve root injury and recurrence of symptoms.
It is essential for both the physician and patient to work toward the same objective when utilizing Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression Therapy. Spinal Decompression Therapy has a goal; and it is important that each patient understand both the objective and method that will be used to attain this goal. This will prevent any confusion and give clear expectations for the patient.
Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression Therapy produces the forces and positions required to cause decompression of the intervertebral discs. Decompression is the unloading due to distraction and positioning of the spine. This therapy produces a negative or vacuum-like pressure within the disc to allow the particular injury to heal naturally. Conditions that may be treated include: back pain, neck pain, herniated discs, protruding discs, degenerative disc disease, posterior facet syndrome and sciatica.
Patients are treated fully clothed and are fitted with a harness that fits around their pelvis as well as a thoracic harness as they lie face down, or face up on a computer controlled table. The doctor operates the table from a computerized console, where a customized treatment protocol is entered into the computer. Each treatment takes about 30 to 45 minutes. The average treatment protocol is approximately 20 to 28 treatments within a five to seven week period of time, depending on the individual's case.
The therapy may also include electric stimulation, ultrasound, thermotherapy (heat), and cryotherapy (cold) before, during, and/or after the treatment. Your doctor will use these therapies when appropriate. All of the above aid to accelerate the healing process. There also may be supplements and home exercises that play a pivotal role in a successful therapy program. Drinking at least a half-gallon of water per day will also enhance the re-hydration process within the discs.
Although there is no procedure that is guaranteed to be successful, non-surgical spinal decompression therapy has a high success rate with full compliance on the part of the patient. Your doctor will recommend that you avoid certain activities and that you adhere to a certain rehabilitation program either during or after your therapy. If you trust your physician and follow directions, you will enhance your chances of success.