The spine is one of the most important components of the human body. The whole system of bone, ligaments, vertebrae and spinal discs work together to absorb shock and keep the body upright. Protected inside, the spinal cord branches out through openings between the vertebrae to carry the nerves throughout the entire body.
Though the job the spine does is extremely important, as years pass, it can eventually begin to deteriorate. In some cases, one or more of the openings that the nerves pass through can narrow, resulting in pinched nerves.
This can lead to:
- Muscle weakness
This condition is referred to as foraminal or spinal stenosis, and when it occurs in the lower back, lumbar spinal stenosis.
Symptoms and Causes of Lumbar Stenosis
Those that develop lumbar stenosis usually see it manifest in small ways at first that grow more prominent over time. The usual symptoms include numbness, tingling, or camping in the legs and feet. With the lower body’s nerves affected, one might also have difficulty standing or balancing correctly. Lower back pain is common, as well as sciatica.
Rarely, people also lose control of their bowels or bladders due to weakened muscles.Some people are predisposed to spinal stenosis, but with others, it can come with old age.
Arthritis, thickened ligaments, herniated disks, and bone overgrowth are all common problems that increase with age, and that can cause a foraminal canal to narrow.
Other causes can be brought on by bad habits of the person affected. A lack of exercise, a history of improper weight lifting, smoking, and poor posture can all lead to deterioration of the spine.
As far as treatment goes, it depends on the severity of the condition. The most common solution is a prescription for pain medication. Antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatory drugs can soothe symptoms and pain.
If that doesn’t work, surgery is recommended to correct the spine. The surgical procedures involve cutting into the back, pushing aside muscle, and moving or cutting the bones of the spine itself.
Alternative Treatments for Lumbar Stenosis
Though medication and surgery are the most commonly recommended treatments, for many, they can be undesirable. Medications may cause allergic reactions, side-effects, or addiction, and surgeries require a lot of time to complete and recover from. Both can be extremely expensive as well. Thankfully, there are some less complicated ways to stay on top of lumbar stenosis instead.
Though less conservative than prescriptions and procedures, many people have found relief from different forms of holistic medicine.
Inversion therapy, or hanging upside down on a specialized table, can help decompress the spine. Taking the pressure off of the back and spinal discs will give them rest, letting them last longer. Hanging at an angle may also help improve flexibility, posture, and blood flow.
Acupuncture is a popular choice as it involves inserting small steel needles into the body near the nerves. Tapping into these specific points can unblock energy pools and promote healing. For a more scientific translation, tapping these points is thought to release endorphins that can ease the body’s pain.
Herbs are also a popular choice, as many plants and spices have been proven to have healing properties when consumed. These come from the chemicals and compounds that make up their organic matter. Turmeric, when taken orally, can be anti-inflammatory, as can the Devil’s Claw herb. When used as a massage oil, peppermint can lessen nerve pain.
Similarly, vervain can also be used as a nerve relaxant. Combined with medicinal alcohol, infused into tea, or applied as an ointment, it can relax the pain of a pinched nerve away. The same is true for a herb called St. John’s wort. The bark of the white willow tree can also be used as a pain reliever when chewed.
Many of the herbs above can also be used in an aromatherapeutic sense. Inhaling different scents makes them interact with the limbic system, which controls hormones and pain reactions. By introducing these healing scents to the system, it can absorb and transport them through the body to stimulate healing.
Chiropractors, Physical Therapy, and Massage Therapy
As a more professional but still alternative approach, finding someone to work on the back and spine area can go a long way towards healing. While these three are all similar, there are subtle differences that will affect treatment and recovery.
A chiropractor focuses on spinal manipulation and routine appointments to keep the spinal stenosis from continuing or worsening. They will be able to locate the problem and use techniques such as joint adjustment and soft tissue mobilization to alleviate pain and attempt to realign the vertebrae. They may also refer their patient to a physical or massage therapist for more intensive treatment.
With physical therapy, a person will be helped through different motions and exercises during an appointment and encouraged to exercise more on their own. Learning how to move the muscles and joints of the body to improve health and reduce pain can go a long way towards relieving the symptoms of lumbar stenosis.
Massage therapy can also be an effective treatment for the pain and stiffness caused by stenosis. While it doesn’t focus on the spine itself, there are numerous different modalities of massage that focus on the back and back muscles.
By using long strokes, gently kneading, introducing heat, or using other forms of massage, a therapist will be able to relax the back and ease discomfort caused by a pinched nerve.
If nothing else works or is accessible, simple lifestyle changes can be enough to stay on top of the problems caused by lumbar stenosis.
Correcting posture to stand and sit up straight will reduce the pressure put on the spine. In bed, changing the sleeping position to one that’s easy on the back or positioning pillows into the right angle can also help to prevent pain and damage.
Additionally, a change in footwear to something that will support the feet and correct posture will be a large help.
Doing some moderate exercise--even just a wander around the house or a few stretches every day--can be enough to relieve spinal pressure and get the blood pumping through the body.
Staying hydrated and eating well will keep the body energized, which will reduce the amount of slouching done during the day.
Kicking addictions like alcohol and smoking can eliminate the problems caused by them. If one works in a particularly dangerous job or one that involves a lot of heavy lifting, taking extra safety precautions should avoid any extra damage done.
At the least, trying some of these lifestyle changes can help a person lessen the symptoms of their spinal stenosis. At the most, many of these changes, if done consistently enough, can significantly slow or even stop spinal stenosis in its tracks.