By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Spinal stenosis sounds complicated but it’s actually pretty simple – this condition involves a narrowing of open spaces in your spine. The spine is a line of 26 bones in your back and it is flexible enough to allow you to bend and stretch.
If you suffer from spinal stenosis your spine is narrowed in the center of the spine, the spaces around the nerve branches, or the space between the bones (vertebrae.)
The narrowing of the space means that your spinal cord is put under pressure and the stress on the nerves causes pain. What exactly causes spinal stenosis, and is it treatable? How do you manage the pain of spinal stenosis naturally?
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis may cause no symptoms. But if you have symptoms they will include pain in the back or the neck, numbness and weakness in your arms or your legs, cramping, pain down the leg, or pain in the feet.
The pain and discomfort may arrive slowly and increase over time. A serious type of spinal stenosis is called cauda equine syndrome and it happens when the nerves in the lower back are put under pressure.
You are most likely to suffer from spinal stenosis over the age of 50, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Spinal stenosis is often the result of the aging process and wear-and-tear on the spine. However, younger people may also suffer from the condition as a result of an inherited condition or accident.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
As you get older your bones and your joints increase in size. The tissue supporting your spine gets thicker, and the bones in the spine may bulge. These changes may result in spinal stenosis.
In addition to the natural aging process, arthritis can also cause spinal stenosis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis both affect the spine, although it is not common for rheumatoid arthritis to cause spinal stenosis.
Inherited conditions that cause spinal stenosis include scoliosis – being born with a curved spine - and being born with a narrow spinal canal. Tumors, injuries, and calcium deposits on the spine may also cause the condition.
We looked at recent scientific studies to find out how to treat and prevent spinal stenosis using natural remedies.
Here’s how to manage back and neck pain, and treat spinal stenosis, in seven ways.
1. Try Acupuncture to Treat Spinal Stenosis
Acupuncture has shown promise as a treatment for pain relief associated with back problems including sciatica – caused by spinal stenosis.
A 1997 study from East Finchley Clinic, London, England shows acupuncture can indeed be successful at treating back pain and sciatic in the lumber spine (lower back).
A 2008 review from the University of Ulster, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland showed acupuncture is more effective than no treatment for the relief of back pain, but other studies are not so conclusive.
2. Use Chiropractic to Ease the Pain of Spinal Stenosis
Chiropractic spinal manipulation is a popular treatment for chronic and acute back pain in the United States and it is frequently used to treat spinal stenosis. Spinal manipulations in chiropractic help to adjust the position of vertebrae in order to return nerve and blood flow to their original function.
The actual evidence for chiropractic is not forthcoming, although many people swear by its effectiveness. A 1996 review from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands reported that the effectiveness of spinal manipulation for patients with acute or chronic low back pain has not been demonstrated with sound clinical trials although there are indications that chiropractic may be effective in some cases of spinal stenosis and other back pain cases.
3. Hot and Cold Treatments for Spinal Stenosis
Sometimes simple home remedies can help a lot with the pain of spinal stenosis. For example, you can use an ice bag on the back or neck, or alternatively a heating pad. A long, hot shower often assists with the discomfort of the condition, and many people will benefit from massage therapy. In order to prevent spinal stenosis as much as you can, make sure you get regular exercise, maintain a good posture, and stick to a healthy weight.
4. Take White Willow Supplements for Spinal Stenosis
White willow contains salicin, a substance that is related chemically to aspirin, and the treatment has been used in Chinese medicine since 500BC for relieving pain and fever. A 2000 study from Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, Technion, Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel tested willow bark extract on people with chronic back pain – a symptom of spinal stenosis. In the group of patients that took 240mg of the extract each day, 39 percent were pain-free during the final days of the study.
5. Devil’s Claw Helps Spinal Stenosis
The herb devil’s claw is touted as an osteoarthritis remedy and has also been tested for the relief of back pain, including back pain from spinal stenosis. A 2001 study from the University of Kiel, Denmark found devil’s claw offered relief for people with mild to moderate muscular tension and pain in the neck, back and shoulders, although other studies have not shown similar benefits.
6. Have Physical Therapy for Spinal Stenosis
According to a 2006 study from Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center, patients with lumbar spinal stenosis discovered significant improvement in their condition following physical therapy. The biggest improvements were seen when the patients received manual physical therapy plus exercise and a treadmill-walking program. People treated with physical therapy reported improvements in quality of life and disability after six weeks of treatment.
7. Treat Spinal Stenosis with Pilates
Women with scoliosis – one of the causes of spinal stenosis – showed significant improvement in their condition when they took part in one-hour sessions of Pilates twice a week, according to a 2012 study from Universidad de la Republica, Montevideo, Uruguay. The 31 women found that their trunk flexion, range of motion, and level of pain was improved compared to no therapy.