Patients often come to me after being told that they have a condition called spinal stenosis. They still don’t know what it is and don’t really know if there is something that can be done about it.
Often, I have patients who tell me that their Dr. told them that they have arthritis and that they will have to live with it. While stenosis itself can be somewhat of a “permanent” condition, it isn’t entirely correct that there isn’t something that can be done.
Since over half of my patients come to me after having failed back or neck surgery and many surgeries are performed to go in and “clean up” stenosis or the bone spurs and arthritis, I felt that it is important to address and explore some of the facts when it comes to spinal and foraminal canal stenosis.
Basically, stenosis is a narrowing of a canal or a tunnel. Stenosis when referring to arteries and veins is narrowing of the blood vessels. This can be caused by plaque formation and lead to cardiovascular disease because the arterial stenosis can keep blood from flowing freely.
Stenosis in the spine comes in 2 varieties: Spinal canal stenosis and foraminal canal stenosis. Both types of spinal stenosis involve narrowing of the canals but the “narrowing” is in 2 different locations.
Spinal canal stenosis is narrowing of the central canal or “neural canal” that the spinal cord itself travels through. When the spinal canal narrows due to arthritis, it can put pressure on the spinal cord directly and cause great pain, nerve damage, numbness, weakness, burning, loss of sensation in general, muscle atrophy, myelopathies, bilateral radiculopathy, sciatica, etc…
Foraminal canal stenosis is narrowing of the tiny foramen on the sides of the spine that the spinal nerves travel through. At every vertebral level, there is a right and left foramen. When the foramina decrease in size and narrow (become stenotic), the spinal nerves can get compressed (choked or pinched) and create similar symptoms to spinal canal stenosis.
Forminal canal stenosis is more commonly seen with the condition called sciatica when one of the spinal nerves gets pinched and creates radiculopathy into one leg. Sciatica can cause extreme pain for those who suffer with sciatic nerve radiculopathy.
Herniated and bulging discs, arthritis, facet joint hypertrophy, ligamentum flavum hypertrophy, and osteophytes are some of the most common causes of spinal or foraminal canal stenosis.
When patient ask me if anything can be done to help with their stenosis, I always like to make three points.
- Stenosis created by arthritis is of a permanent nature. Some surgeons will “grind” off the bone spurs to create more space. This is a temporary reliever for some but the pain and discomfort will often return. Why, because the procedure of “grinding” off the spurs and ridges can reduce the stenosis for the short term but the inflammation created by the procedure can create new calcium deposits which contributes to more spurs and arthritis. Arthritis is arthritis. When joints get broken down and spaces are narrowed, it is what it is.
- Stenosis created by soft tissue is of a different nature. It can be reduced or reversed both surgically and through natural methods such as my disc rehydration and laser treatments. I tell my patients that the arthritis they have today will be the same arthritis that they will have a year or two from now. Where my program shines is that it often successfully reduces the amount of soft tissue stenosis. By getting soft tissue (herniated and bulging discs) away from the nerves, the nerve can calm down and give people life changing relief.
- While the arthritis is there, and the joints are permanently enlarged, the soft tissue component of the stenosis is what were target. By hydrating and improving the health of the discs, we can open up the space and therefore, decrease the inflammation of the joint complex. By decreasing the amount of local inflammation, we can get pain relief while at the same time help to slow down the arthritic degeneration and degenerative disc disease process.