Clearing the Roadblock of Spinal Stenosis

By Dr. Molly Casey

Clearing the Roadblock of Spinal Stenosi

Imagine you are on a road trip cruising down a four lane highway and the trip is going great. You are making good time, there are other cars on the road but none that are intrusive, you’re buzzing along at a good speed which means you’ll get to your destination on time and you’re getting optimal gas mileage because things are moving smoothly.

But as you approach the next city there’s construction. Four lanes become only three usable lanes, then two and then finally one. After a while of hanging out in traffic you realize you’re irritated, you’re creeping along or completely stopped, the gas mileage has plummeted and you’re hours behind schedule. (At this point, I should welcome you to Los Angeles.) So you try to pull off at the next exit. There you find exactly the same thing: A one-lane exit that has been narrowed to half its normal size and it seemingly takes an eternity to get through.

This scenario sounds pretty inefficient and perhaps even painful, correct? And you might be wondering what connection does this have with chiropractic. The bottleneck traffic scenario is analogous to what happens with spinal degeneration in a condition called spinal stenosis. You know that in teaching and practice I focus primarily on the health of the nervous system as a whole, but sometimes we must understand different conditions or issues. Today, it’s the bottleneck traffic that is spinal stenosis.

Spinal Stenosis

Many of the terms thrown around in the medical community can sound intimidating and scary, especially while you’re in a lot of pain -- and that pain is significantly affecting your life and you’re uncertain of options and care. Spinal stenosis is one of those scary terms; you’d think patients were headed to the electric chair when they are diagnosed with spinal stenosis. While it may sound pretty bleak, chiropractors see this regularly -- and we can help! There will be no trip to the gallows.

Stenosis is defined as a narrowing or stricture of a passage or vessel. In the spine it occurs when the spinal or foraminal canal narrows. Think of the main highway funnelling from four lanes to one. Your spinal cord travels from the bottom of the brain to the top of the low back through the central canal. The nerves that divide off the spinal cord and travel to every cell throughout the body -- carrying all the messages from and to the brain -- exit the spine through a small space called the foraminal canal (think the narrowing of the exit off the highway). You live your entire life through your central nervous system, which is encased in the spine. It’s your master control, your communication system, your command central. If there is a bottleneck traffic situation slowing the messages from your central nervous system to every function in your body, you’re not as healthy as you can be regardless of how you feel. And no matter what others tell you, there is always hope.

The How and Why

How and why does the spinal canal narrow? The narrowing is a degenerative process that often occurs as a result of improper spinal function and movement, called a subluxation. When the spine is subluxated and not moving correctly, the body naturally finds a way to assure that the spine is as stable as possible. The way it does this is by laying down bone in areas that it otherwise wouldn’t and, as a result, it often protrudes into the canal and narrows it.

What does this mean for the patient, for you? Often this can be present with no symptoms to report. Because there is no pain, patients don’t think they have a problem so they don’t need to see a chiropractor. That’s what makes it so tricky: All the while they can have subluxated vertebral segments causing spinal degeneration in subtle increments that affect their overall quality of life without the patient even noticing. Others may experience a wide variety of pain and symptoms with the narrowing of the canals. The type and intensity of pain will be different based on the individual, affected area, and severity of condition.

Often practitioners will simply put a label on conditions as opposed to addressing the underlying reasons as to why they exist and how to prevent the problem from getting worse, or from occurring in the first place. Chiropractors do things differently, however.

If you’ve been told you have spinal stenosis and are concerned -- as you should be -- and want to slow or perhaps stop the degenerative process by dealing with the root cause, drop in to The Joint Chiropractic to see your local chiropractor. We Doctors of Chiropractic would love to let you know how we can help you get through that construction zone on your communication superhighway with a bit more ease and efficiency. It’s a trip worth making quickly.


Dr. Molly Casey is a Doctor of Chiropractic who practices in the Los Angeles area. She works twice a week at The Joint’s Glendale, CA clinic.