Don’t let the diagnosis of spinal stenosis scare you. Stenosis is just the Latin word for “narrowing”. Spinal stenosis is simply a description of your spine. It’s a very weak diagnosis in that it doesn’t really tell you why you have that narrowing.
Why do you get spinal stenosis?
There are a couple of reasons you get spinal stenosis. Most commonly the narrowing is due to bony spurs that grow on the back of the vertebrae of your spine. Which then takes up space in the spinal canal or in the intervertebral foreman where your spinal nerves exit the spinal canal. This bony growth makes these openings narrower, hence the name stenosis. This narrowing means less room for your spinal cord and nerves. If there is too little room for the nerves the pressure from the stenosis (narrowing) will irritate the nerves causing pain.
The next logical question is what causes the bone spurs. A common misconception is that spinal degeneration in the form of bone spurs and arthritis is a result of “old age”. This is not true! All the bones in your spine are the same age. Do they not degenerate at the same rate? Why do you have spinal stenosis in one area of the spine and not another? Why is one disc bulging or degenerated and not all of them? Almost without exception, this is a result of chronic excessive loading or stress on the vertebra(s) due to an abnormal spine shape. This is because of the shape and structure of your spine.
When the spine is not maintained in the position it was designed then your weight is distributed unevenly. There is more stress in one area than the other. Think of a car with the front end out of alignment. When that happens the tires will wear unevenly and the life of the tire is greatly shortened before it fails. When the spine is out of alignment (as measured on x-ray) then the vertebra and discs will wear unevenly and will fail.
This stress causes the bone growth because of something called Wolff’s Law.
Wolff’s law states that when a bone undergoes stress it lays down more bone. This is great when you are exercising and your muscles get bigger because then you bones will respond by getting bigger. This happens so the muscles don’t get too strong for the bones they are attached to. This is not great when you have an injury or poor posture that causes an abnormally shaped spine. It’s very common for people to have a straight neck or hunchback and not have symptoms until later. Just like your tire won’t fail as soon as your front end is out of alignment. In both instances, it’s wise to correct the problem before failure or before irreversible damage happens.
While the bone spurs causing spinal stenosis are not something that can be “healed” and reduced in size, spinal shifts can often be improved to reduce the symptoms causing them. Proper corrective chiropractic care can also help to stop or slow the process from continuing. The only way to know for sure is to see a structural focused chiropractic who takes full spine x-rays and identifies the structural abnormalities. Equally as important is for there to be a specific care plan designed to make measurable changes to the spine upon reevaluation in typically after two to three months corrective chiropractic care.