- Stenosis-An abnormal narrowing of a bodily canal or passage. In musculoskeletal terms, this would refer to the IVF or intervertebral foramen (the hole between the vertebrae through which the spinal nerve passes) or the spinal canal which contains the spinal cord within the spinal column. When stenosis occurs, it reduces the normal available space within the spinal canal or IVF and may contribute to spinal cord or nerve irritation.
- Arthritis-Inflammation of a joint or joints resulting in pain, stiffness and swelling in the joint. In musculoskeletal terms, most arthritis refers to degenerative changes of the joints including, but not limited to IVD or intervertebral disc degeneration and hypertrophic bony joint changes such as spurring on the vertebrae. When arthritis occurs, it can reduce the normal available space within the spinal canal or IVF and may contribute to spinal cord/nerve irritation.
- Disc Problems-As related to your musculoskeletal system, these include degenerated discs (narrowing or thinning of the disc), inflamed or bulging discs and herniated discs. A disc is like a jelly filled donut. If the disc were to dry out and become thinner, this is disc degeneration. If you compressed or pushed on the donut and the jelly pushed out on the side without leaking out, this would be a bulging disc. If the jelly broke through the donut and was leaking out of the donut, that would be a herniated disc. When either disc degeneration, disc bulging or disc herniation occurs, it reduces the normal available space within the spinal canal or IVF and may contribute to spinal cord and nerve irritation. It has been documented however that 60% of patients with bulging and herniated discs may have no symptoms whatsoever.
Stenosis, Arthritis and Discs…oh my!!!
“You can’t help me, I have stenosis.” “My doctor says I have arthritis and I’ll just have to live with it.” “ My disc is degenerated and so narrow...you can't do anything for that. “ “My MRI shows I have a bad disc…I have to see a surgeon . “
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard one of those statements or one like them. Such a shame. People are willing to accept such misunderstood diagnoses and subsequently erroneously live with pain and symptoms they don’t have to live with. Why do I say misunderstood? Because people assume their medical doctor or even surgeon understands the causes of musculoskeletal conditions and pain when unfortunately, they frequently either do not or at least do a poor job communicating what is actually going on. As the statements reflect, you have stenosis..or arthritis..or a bad disc.. .. ..what’s to understand. It’s quite simple actually.
The Flaw of Medical Diagnoses
The flaw of traditional medical diagnoses is so simple that even a 10 year-old could understand. Traditional medical diagnoses are made under the false assumption that only one thing can be going on at a time. You have pain and you have stenosis..therefore, the stenosis is causing your pain. You have pain and you have arthritis..therefore, the arthritis is causing your pain. The same goes for degenerated and herniated discs. Have pain? Does your x-ray show disc degeneration or does your MRI show a herniated disc? The assumption is the disc is causing your pain. The flaw in this very shortsighted thinking is that nothing else can be going on in each of those cases that could be causing or contributing to your symptoms. It’s like medical doctors wear blinders. Once they “ know ” (or think they know) what is causing your problem, as far as they are concerned, it’s not even possible that something else could be contributing to or causing your problem.
What Actually Happens
In the case of the majority of individuals who suffer from back pain (or the plethora of other symptoms associated with spinal conditions such as arm and leg pain or headaches etc.), there are actually a combination of things going on of which the medically diagnosed condition is merely a contributing factor. Yes, the stenosis, arthritis and disc condition is present. But it is only a part of the problem. A contributing factor . How do I know this? Because I have treated hundreds of patients with these conditions (some very seriously so!) and witnessed the subsequent improvement of their pain and other symptoms. In each and every case, the stenosis, arthritis or disc condition that was present prior to my treatment was still present after my treatment yet the patient was better. How is that possible? Because the arthritis, stenosis or disc wasn’t the primary causative factor let alone the sole or only causative factor. More than one thing was going on. Chiropractic is not a cure for any of those things. But….Chiropractic can affect other factors that contribute to the overall condition causing an individual’s pain or symptoms. These other factors include primarily vertebral misalignment and vertebral joint fixation and secondarily joint inflammation and muscular spasms. Before you understand how chiropractic can help people with stenosis, arthritis and disc problems..you have to first understand how chiropractic works in general.
What chiropractors believe is that the vertebrae that make up your spinal column can misalign (or become out of place) and/or become fixated (or stuck) in this incorrect position which then leads to nerve root irritation. Joint inflammation and muscular spasms then further irritate the nerve root and then, a vicious cycle ensues and the next thing you know, you are on a pain merry-go-round you can’t get off of. The vertebra misaligns and gets stuck there, it irritates the nerve, joint inflammation and muscle spasms follow which further irritates the nerve and prevents the vertebrae from returning to it’s normal position and more irritation occurs. Typically, this irritation causes pain.
The Stenosis/Arthritis/Disc Twist
Once you understand how misalignment of the vertebra and joint fixation can irritate the nerves and cause pain, then you only have one small step to go to understand how stenosis, arthritis and disc problems can contribute further to or complicate this problem. There is a finite amount of space within your spinal column. There is only so much space available within the spinal canal around the spinal cord and there is only so much space within the hole (the intervertebral foramen) that the spinal nerves exit through. This means that anything that compromises that space or reduces the space available makes irritation to the nerve that much easier. In other words, say that there is enough space within the foramen or hole that the vertebra has to misalign 1/8 of an inch before the nerve is irritated and pain starts. Anything that makes that hole narrower means that now, less misalignment is necessary for nerve irritation to begin. So in this example, if 1/8 of misalignment was originally necessary, now if you have stenosis, arthritis or disc problems present, only 1/16” of misalignment or less is necessary for the nerve irritation to occur. A reduction in the available space by stenosis or arthritis or degenerated/bulging/herniated disc means it takes less vertebral misalignment before nerve irritation and pain occur. There is less tolerance for a margin of error within your body. Things don’t have to be out of place as far for symptoms to occur as would be if the complicating factor (stenosis, arthritis, disc) was not present. But if the chiropractor can realign the vertebra and reduce the joint fixation just a little, it can remove the nerve irritation and thus reduce the pain. This explains how a 95-year old retired school teacher who had arthritis, degeneration and scoliosis so bad her spine looked like it was in her body sideways was able to improve through my chiropractic care. The arthritis was just as bad after I treated her as before, yet with a series of treatments, she improved and felt better. This explains how my partner treated a patient with a herniated disc and after a series of chiropractic treatments, her pain subsided (coincidentally, her herniated disc went away too when the aberrant and uneven pressure the misaligned vertebra was applying to the disc was removed). This is why a 65 year-old man with stenosis in his cervical spine causing pain in his neck and numbness in his arm and fingers can improve with chiropractic care. This is why a patient with such severe degeneration that the disc is all but gone and the vertebrae are rubbing together can improve and get relief without the use of medication.
What Should You Do?
My hope is that you won’t just blindly accept that you have an incurable or untreatable condition....or some medication or shot (along with their side effects) to try to cover the symptoms is the answer. That you won’t blindly accept on faith what one doctor may have erroneously told you or poorly explained to you. Please contact our office if you would ever like to take time to sit down and discuss this topic (or any topic for that matter) with one of our doctors. We’ve helped tens of thousands of patients over the last 30+ years and WE CAN HELP YOU!!!