You’ve seen them at the grocery store. Perhaps you are one of them. It might be due to old age, bad hips or bum knees, but they’re leaning into their shopping carts. In fact, it seems to be holding them up as they slowly travel up and down the aisles. It is also a recognized sign of someone with spinal stenosis, which is most likely to occur in men and women 50 years of age and older. It is painful and debilitating, and it is almost certain to get worse with time if untreated.
It is often accompanied with pain in or weakening of the legs, which is why so many sufferers lean on those grocery carts. Here at Montvale Health Sport + Spine, we have the options of physical therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture as treatments that bring relief.
The neck and lower back are the most likely locations for stenosis along the spine and are respectively known as cervical and lumbar stenosis. Even though not everyone diagnosed with spinal stenosis experiences the typical symptoms of pain, numbness, muscle weakness and tingling, the majority have one or more of those symptoms. What causes all this pain and unsteadiness (balance is often an issue) is the narrowing of spaces in the spine generally related to osteoarthritis. The space is inside the spine— the spinal canal that protects the sensitive nerves of the spinal cord— and, in rare cases, people are born with a restricted canal.
Most of the narrowing, however, comes from the outside, and aside from osteoarthritis which creates bone spurs during the aging process that intrude into the canal, there are other factors:
- traumatic spinal injuries that may displace bone and cause fractures that invade and damage the canal
- herniated discs that create cracks in the cushioning of the vertebrae, resulting in painful pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
- tumors or abnormal growths may form inside the canal and, as with herniated discs, exert painful pressure
- ligaments that hold the bones of the spine together thicken and literally bulge into the spinal canal
An estimated 1.4 million U.S. residents experienced symptoms of spinal stenosis in 2021, and while it might not rank as one of the more common health afflictions in this country, it affects as many as five people per a thousand. That translates into a much more significant percentage of the older population.
Some spinal stenosis sufferers rely on pain medications to help them cope with the pain, but a growing number are turning toward to the less invasive treatments of chiropractic medicine and physical therapy. Surgery is only recommended in the more severe cases.
Chiropractic approaches are deemed both appropriate and effective in treating the symptoms of spinal stenosis, because it reduces the pressure on the spinal cord by correcting and re-aligning dislocated and herniated discs. There is relief to be achieved through acupuncture and therapeutic massage.
As far as the impact of physical therapy on spinal stenosis, according to health experts at Harvard Medical School: “One type of lower back pain, called lumbar spinal stenosis, is sometimes treated with surgery,” it was stated it in Harvard Health Blog on June 15, 2020, acknowledging a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine. “But physical therapy works just as well, and comes with fewer unwanted complications — some of them life-threatening — than surgery…”