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Functions Of The Spine And The Effects of Spinal Stenosis

Let’s revisit the two main functions of the spine. Your spine is your backbone! It supports you! It can also be a source of great pain and aggravation. Have you been told that you have “stenosis” in parts of your spine? If “yes,” were you explained what it is? How it develops? Were you given options to treat it other than surgery? If your answer was “no” to any of those follow-up questions, this post is for you.

According to the Mayo Institute,

“Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the lower back and the neck”.

This narrowing of the spaces is a byproduct of degeneration of the bones of your spine. When your spine has accumulated both large and small physical traumas over a life time, as well as the natural wear and tera of gravity and aging, it will begin to break down (or degenerate). The amount of stress and damage you have put on your spine over your life will both speed this process up and allow it to run its normal course of aging.

Two Main Functions of the Spine

functions of the spine - bare back
Photographer: engin akyurt | Source: Unsplash

To help clarify even more, let’s take a step back and look the functions of the spine. Your spine has two major functions. The first function of the spine is to keep you upright; this is called your posture. When your posture and alignment are normal, you can move normally, and your body will age normally.

The second of the functions of your spine is to protect your spinal cord and all exiting nerves. The way your spine does this is by having specific holes or “foramen” that are formed when the bones stack on each other in a certain way, known as the intervertebral foramen, or as the bone natural develops, known as the vertebral foramen. (See image). The design and construction of the spine are truly a work of art and an amazing feat of engineering!

functions of the spine - vertebral foramen
Vertebral foramen

Breakdown Of The Spine

However, when we stress the structure and alignment of our spine beyond its ability to adapt, it has no choice but to breakdown. This is seen in every aspect of life. Whatever we don’t maintain will break down! In your spine’s case there are two types of destructive forces. I like to refer to them as macro and micro stressors. Macro stressors are the accidents, the sports injuries, the falls, the car accidents, etc. that you have had over a lifetime. These fast acting and intense traumas literally shift your spinal bones out of alignment in an instant.

On the contrary, micro traumas are slow acting stressors such as sitting for long periods of time, looking down at a computer screen 8hrs/day for 5 days/week for your whole career, the cumulative effect of looking down at your phone, daily commutes or long car rides with poor seat positions, poor sleeping habits and poor lifting habits to name a few. Over time, micro traumas will create as much or more damage than the macro traumas. Unfortunately, you don’t feel the effects of micro traumas until it’s too late!

As you accumulate the macro and micro stressors, your alignment and posture are weakened and when this happens your spine (and body) cannot move correctly. There is abnormal stress on certain parts of your joints that’s not supposed to be there. This abnormal stress causes advanced wear and tear on the joint of your spine. Think of what happens when your car is out of alignment…you wear down the tires faster! This same principle happens in your spine.

Reducing The Inflammation

Sit ups to reduce inflammation of spine
Photographer: Jonathan Borba | Source: Unsplash

When the joints of your spine can no longer move the way they were supposed to, they create friction. This friction turns into inflammation. Prolonged periods of inflammation cause a reaction in the bone to produce more calcium. This build-up of calcium leads to the formation of bone spurs (osteophytes) or creates more bulk around the joints that in turn decrease the size of the holes (foramen). In short, this stress from poor alignment has caused a compression on the delicate nerves of your spinal cord.

So what can you do naturally to alleviate this problem? The first thing is to begin to work on the poor alignment that led to the problem in the first place. Even if there is breakdown of the joints, if you improve the movement and alignment of the low back (or neck) it will create more “space” for the nerve to exit (Less pinching …less choking of the nerve). This will begin to reduce the pain. Once the alignment and movement begin to improve, you can no work on rehabilitating or strengthen the areas around the spine. This may involve additional therapies, exercises or stretches and advanced therapies such as Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression.

Once the area of your stenosis is moving better, getting stronger and has less compression of nerves, now it becomes very important to look at the different stressors , macro and micro, that may still be in your life that will cause your spine to buckle back out of alignment if you don’t change certain habits. This is not as difficult as it may sound and with the right approach and right guidance, you could not only experience less pain but also more health and vitality.

So, don’t settle for surgery as your only option. Keep exploring other ways to decrease your pain and improve your body’s function naturally.

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