Spinal Stenosis

200,000

More than 200,000 U.S. adults are affected by spinal stenosis.

103M

people worldwide are diagnosed with spinal stenosis each year.

60+

While spinal stenosis can affect younger patients, it typically affects people who are age 60 and older.

What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition that is characterized by pain and weakness in the neck or lower back. The condition occurs when the spaces in between your spine become more narrow, placing pressure on the nerves that travel through your spine. [1] 

This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as bone overgrowth, thickened ligaments, and spinal injuries.

There are two types of spinal stenosis: cervical stenosis (which affects your neck) and lumbar stenosis (which affects your lower back). Lumbar stenosis is the more common form of the condition.

Who is affected?

Anyone can be diagnosed with spinal stenosis. The condition is generally diagnosed after the age of 50, although young people live with the condition too. [2]

What happens in your body?

Common symptoms of spinal stenosis include: [1]

  • Cervical spinal stenosis: 
    • Neck pain
    • Problems with walking and balance
    • Burning sensations or tingling in the arm or leg 
    • Pain, weakness, or numbness in the arms, legs, feet, or shoulders
    • In severe cases, bowel or bladder problems
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis:
    • Back pain
    • Weakness in a foot or leg which causes the foot to slap down when walking (also called ‘foot drop’)
    • Numbness, or tingling in a foot or leg
    • Pain or cramping in one or both legs when standing for long periods of time or walking
    • Burning pain going down the buttocks and the legs
    • Loss of sexual ability

Symptoms of spinal stenosis vary depending on the nerves affected by the condition.

How do I know if I have spinal stenosis?

It is important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible to make sure that the condition does not worsen. The best way to do this is by visiting your doctor and, if possible, getting a referral to a specialized care provider. One doctor that specifically treats spinal stenosis is a neurologist. 

Some ways that your doctor can assess whether you have the condition is through physical examination, inquiring about your symptoms, reviewing your medical history, or conducting imaging tests.

How is it treated?

There is no known cure for spinal stenosis, but integrative interventions have shown to reduce pain and discomfort and improve quality of life by slowing the condition’s progression and easing the severity of symptoms. [3]

Integrative interventions offer a holistic approach to treatment. Instead of just conventional medicine, integrative treatments combine conventional medicine with nutritional tools, mind-body medicine, and manual medicine for a holistic approach to treating spinal stenosis.

For those new to integrative medicine, learn more here

Conventional Medicine

Many people with spinal stenosis find that certain medications work for them and others do not. So, in order to find an effective conventional treatment, people with spinal stenosis often work with their doctors to determine which medication works best with their body and needs. 

With the right medication, it is possible to manage symptoms and prevent the rapid worsening of the condition. Before starting to take any medication, be sure to ask your doctor about possible side effects. And if you notice any of the side effects once you start your treatment, let your doctor know as soon as possible. [1]

Examples of conventional treatments:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (common name: ibuprofen), or NSAIDs, are commonly used treatments for inflammation and pain resulting from spinal stenosis.

  • Analgesics (common name: aspirin) are intended to relieve pain, and are often recommended for patients who have previously experienced negative side effects when taking NSAIDs.

  • Certain antidepressants (such as amitriptyline) can also be used to relieve chronic pain.

  • Some anti-seizure medications (such as gabapentin and pregabalin) can help to reduce pain caused by spinal stenosis-related nerve damage.

Mind-Body Medicine

Research shows that gentle, low-intensity mind-body treatments can help Spinal Stenosis patients with mobility, mood, decreased pain, and more. There are a wide variety of mind-body treatments for spinal stenosis, ranging from deep breathing to aqua-therapy.

When living with chronic pain, engaging in regular movement and exercise may feel difficult and unnecessary. But doing so can actually improve your symptoms. 

Before starting a physical exercise regimen, consult with your doctor about what might be the best activities for you and your body.

Examples of mind-body medicine:

  • Tai chi, a mind-body exercise that originated from China, incorporates slow, gentle movements with breathing exercises. Research conducted by the Hartford Hospital found that tai chi brings emotional wellbeing, improved strength, and improved balance to individuals with chronic pain.

  • Yoga comes in many different styles, often engaging both the body and the mind through controlled breathing and stretching. Those with spinal stenosis should practice very safe and specific yoga poses and exercises.

  • Aquatic exercises such as swimming and water aerobics strengthen your core. Research shows that aquatic exercise can affect the physical function of spinal stenosis patients.

  • Weight management and healthy nutritional intake are key in reducing health risks. A study from the National Institute of Health found that weight management from diet and exercise are beneficial for alleviating pain. 

  • Relaxation therapies like deep breathing techniques, meditation, and biofeedback can help patients ease anxiety and better manage chronic pain. Research demonstrates the effectiveness of mindful exercises on pain management for patients with spinal stenosis.

Manual Medicine

Manual treatments are administered by certified therapists, using physical pressure and stimulation on the body to reduce spinal stenosis symptoms. Treatments can vary in intensity and incorporate other elements such as heat and aromatherapy to enhance relief. 

Examples of manual medicine:

  • A widely-adopted Chinese treatment administered by certified acupuncturists who insert very thin needles at strategic points on the body to support overall wellness. A randomized control study demonstrated that patients experiencing chronic pain who received acupuncture showed improvements in pain management.

  • Licensed massage therapists use different techniques, like shiatsu, hot stone, and Swedish massage, to provide temporary pain relief. Research shows that massage therapy is a promising treatment for patients with chronic low-back pain. 

  • Physical therapy can help with physical strengthening, mobility, and overall functionality. A study conducted by researchers in Sweden found that physical therapy techniques were suitable for addressing musculoskeletal conditions as well as with chronic back pain.

  • A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that osteopathic manual care had similar clinical results to standard medical care, but required fewer medications.

Nutritional Tools

Nutrition plays a crucial role in your overall health, and is a tool you can use to combat joint damage, reduce inflammation, and manage other spinal stenosis symptoms. 

Just like with conventional, mind-body, and manual medicines, there is not one ideal treatment for every spinal stenosis patient. When selecting nutritional tools to treat your condition, it is best to consult with your doctor or work with a dietitian, naturopath, or nutritionist to find out the best diet for you.

Examples of nutritional tools:

  • Anti-inflammatory diets

    • Anti-inflammatory diets include nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants and intend to reduce inflammation in the body. A popular anti-inflammatory diet is the Mediterranean diet which has been shown to reduce signs of inflammation.

  • Plant-based diets

    • Vegetarian and vegan diets have shown to promote gut health, which may have an anti-inflammatory impact. A study conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine demonstrated that plant based diets improve joint pain, tenderness, and swelling.

  • Elimination diet

    • While some foods can help reduce symptoms, other foods may trigger them. An elimination diet, which is an eating plan that eliminates certain foods or food groups believed to be causing negative bodily reactions, can help you figure out which foods are triggering those symptoms and bring you closer to your ideal diet.

  • Fish

    • Research suggests that eating fish may reduce joint inflammation for those with rheumatoid arthritis. This may help with symptoms of lupus.

    • Go to Mayo Clinic for recommendations on consuming healthy amounts of fish.

  • Fruits and vegetables

    • Fruits and vegetables have antioxidants, which support your immune system and may fight inflammation.

  • Nuts

    • Nuts are rich in healthy fat, protein, and fiber, and help fight inflammation.

  • Olive Oil

    • This heart-healthy ingredient contains healthy fat, antioxidants, and oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound.  

  • Onions

    • These simple, flavor-rich vegetables are packed with antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and help control cholesterol levels.

  • Fiber

    • Fiber is found in foods like beans, whole grain breads, and fresh vegetables. It makes you feel fuller for longer and boosts digestive health. It also may help reduce inflammation.

  • Fish oils

    • Fish oils may reduce inflammation. A study found that there patients with rheumatoid arthritis who consumed dietary fish oil as part of their diet reported ideal and improved health status.

  • Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)

    • Gamma linolenic acid is mostly found in plant seed oils like borage seed, evening primrose, and blackcurrant seed oil.       

  • Turmeric

    • Turmeric is a spice from the turmeric plant that has anti-inflammatory properties. A study indicated that turmeric can be used as a source for alleviating chronic pain.

  • Folic acid

    • Folic and folinic acid supplements have been shown to improve liver function and ease gastrointestinal intolerance (the digestive system’s difficulty processing certain foods, which can lead stomach pain and bloating).

  • Vitamin D

    • Vitamin D supplements are good for bone health, and they can also help keep the immune system functioning properly. Research found that pain levels were associated with higher levels of vitamin D deficiency in spinal stenosis patients.

  • Antioxidants

    • Antioxidants can help prevent cell damage. A study conducted by researchers in Italy found that antioxidants can be beneficial for bone growth and strength.

  • Probiotics

    • Studies show that probiotic supplements may help improve gut health and even lead to lower levels of inflammation.

  • Pomegranate

    •  A study by researchers in France demonstrated that pomegranate peel extract significantly prevented the decrease in bone mineral density.

  • Green tea extract

    • A University of Michigan study showed that green tea extract may help reduce overall joint inflammation and damage.

  • [1] Spinal stenosis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/spinal-stenosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352961. Published March 8, 2018. Accessed July 24, 2020. 
  • [2] Lee MJ, Cassinelli EH, Riew KD. Prevalence of cervical spine stenosis. Anatomic study in cadavers. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2007;89(2):376-380. doi:10.2106/JBJS.F.00437 
  • [3] Lee YJ, Shin JS, Lee J, et al. Survey of integrative lumbar spinal stenosis treatment in Korean medicine doctors: preliminary data for clinical practice guidelines. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017;17(1):425. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.1186/s12906-017-1942-6 
  • [4] Lumbar Spinal Stenosis. (n.d.). Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Lumbar-Spinal-Stenosis 
  • [5] Ravindra, V. M., Senglaub, S. S., & Rattani, A. (2018). Degenerative Lumbar Spine Disease: Estimating Global Incidence and Worldwide Volume. Global Spine Journal, 8(8), 784-794. doi:doi.org/10.1177/2192568218770769 
  • [6] Wu AM, Zou F, Cao Y, Xia DD, He W, Zhu B, Chen D, Ni WF, Wang XY, Kwan K. Lumbar spinal stenosis: an update on the epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment. AME Med J 2017;2:63. 
The information on this page is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.