If you’ve had a diagnosis of spinal stenosis in the past accompanied by sciatica, finding something that works treatment-wise for you can be relatively challenging. Understanding exactly what’s causing your spinal stenosis is going to be one of the first steps, so today we’re going to walk you through the different types of spinal stenosis, why you experience sciatica with these and something you may be able to do at home to help if this is something you’re struggling with.
What Is Sciatica?
First of all, sciatica is something that can go hand-in-hand with spinal stenosis. If this is something you’re struggling with, you may have pain that goes down the backs of either leg, it may also go into the calf or foot or be literally a pain in the buttocks. This can often be referred to as lumbar radiculopathy, referral pain from a nerve in your lumbar spine. Getting a diagnosis of sciatica isn’t very helpful on it’s own, rather it’s going to be much more helpful if you know what’s caused the sciatica in the first place so that you can resolve the problem.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Similarly to sciatica, receiving a diagnosis of spinal stenosis on its own is not very helpful as there’s usually something else causing it. Central canal stenosis is essentially where there has been narrowing of the little holes behind the vertebrae, where your nerves carry information up and down the spine. This can be caused by only two things, with one being slightly more difficult to treat than the other. With both types of stenosis, it’s likely you may have difficulty standing straight, as typically being bent forwards is less painful as it opens up the space further that’s being narrowed.
A ‘soft’ stenosis is the easier of the two to treat here at the clinic. This is essentially where a disc has bulged to the extent it is occupying space in the little hole behind the vertebra, making it narrower and compressing down on some of those nerves at the back. This is where you might be likely to suffer with sciatica symptoms, as it’s very common for this to compress the sciatic nerve. This type of problem is usually caused by an excess of pressure bearing down on to the vertebrae, normally as a result of poor posture or repetitive stress over time (such as frequent rounding of the lumbar spine), which causes more weight-bearing on these joints. As this happens, if you imagine your discs as water balloons, the increased pressure on them causes them to bulge outwards to the sides. The good news is that disc injuries can resolve with time without any long-lasting consequences, and they can be resolved by taking pressure off the area if done properly. We’ll give an exercise for this further down!
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A ‘hard’ stenosis is a more complex issue, and can usually occur after years of problems with your spine. In this problem, you may have had a few disc bulges over the years and this has caused damage to the vertebral bodies. This damage over time has led to the development of osteophytes, bony growths onto the bodies that poke outwards into the holes. Narrowing of the canal due to bone formation is less simple to deal with and so needs a more robust rehabilitation program to treat.
How Can Spinal Stenosis Be Treated?
Generally, traditional treatment approaches for spinal stenosis are not too effective. Often, flexion based exercises can be recommended, such as knee hugs. However, these can place more pressure on the lumbar spine, which can cause further inflammation to occupy the space in the long-run. For that reason, try to avoid all forms of forward bending.
While it’s difficult right now to get out and to a clinic that can provide treatment, you can try the towel stretch we frequently recommend at home for your symptoms. For stenosis caused by a disc bulge, this should be very helpful for you in taking the pressure off the joints and the muscles in your lower back. This stretch simply involves taking a towel and rolling it up to roughly the size of a foam roller, placing it underneath the lower back about an inch above the two dimples in your lower back and lying on it for between 3-5 minutes. This may be uncomfortable at first for a few times but should ease after a week or so. If you have bone spurs that have caused the stenosis, you may experience sharp pains going down the legs when trying this exercise. It’s definitely something worth trying, testing it out for around 30 seconds to a minute just to see how you get on, as it can help symptoms tremendously if it’s not going to cause you this pain. We would recommend trying it out for a couple of days and if you do get this sharp pain down the legs every time you do it, to not persist with this exercise as this is something that’s unlikely to pass the more you do it. If you find it too uncomfortable to do on the floor at first, you can try doing it on the bed if it makes it easier for you but do progress to doing this on the floor!
We hope you’ve found today’s article helpful! If you have any questions about spinal stenosis, or about any other topic in general, please do feel free to get in touch with us either on our social channels, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by tuning in to our livestreams, these go live every weekday on our Facebook and YouTube channels. We feature a Q&A section during these videos where you can ask our lead practitioner Michael Fatica anything! If you’re struggling with back pain and you’re not sure what you can do at home for the problem, do sign up to our membership area for free at www.backinshapeapp.com to find out what stretches we would recommend!
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