Spinal stenosis is a degenerative disease with painful symptoms that can be greatly relieved by massage therapy. Without proper treatment, spinal stenosis may lead to chronic back and neck pain, negatively affecting the sufferer’s daily activities and quality of life. Pain management is an important part of symptomatic treatment with spinal stenosis – which is the reason that massage plays such an important role.
What is spinal stenosis?
“Stenosis” is Greek for “narrowing or constricting space” and is a condition that can occur in any tubular structure of the body. Often, spinal stenosis occurs in the spinal column where the vertebrae, spinal cord and nerve roots are located. Put simply, it is the constricting and narrowing of the spinal canal.
Typically speaking, the lumber (lower back) and cervical (neck) region are most commonly affected by spinal stenosis. Although having different names (lumbar spinal stenosis and cervical spinal stenosis), both types of spinal stenosis have a similar effect on the body.
Individuals can either acquire spinal stenosis or inherit the disease. Those who inherit the condition, have a small spinal canal at birth that may become narrower over time. For those that have acquired spinal stenosis, the condition usually begins slowly due to age-related degeneration, developing slowly over many years. As time passes, the spaces between the spinal cord, nerve roots and the vertebrae are minimised. Often, this narrowing of the spinal canal can be the result of abnormal bone or tissue growth.
How does the body ‘acquire’ spinal stenosis?
- Ligaments connecting the spine may become larger;
- Bone spurs (osteophytes) may grow on the vertebrae, pushing on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing irritation and pain, or
- Vertebral discs and bones may be forced back against the spinal cord through repeated pressure or trauma.
Living with spinal stenosis
For those living with this painful condition, everyday activities, such as household chores, exercising or working may be painful. The main cause of the pain is the compression of various spinal components and the associated squeezing of the nerve roots, which in turn, irritate the nervous system. Once irritation occurs, patients may feel pain, weakness or numbness in various parts of the body. For those living with this condition, the following basic health measures are recommended:
- maintain good posture
- get adequate sleep in a comfortable bed
- maintain regular exercise
- eat a balanced and healthy diet
Of primary importance for sufferers of spinal stenosis is maintaining a regular exercise routine that involves a significant amount of stretching for the whole body, including rotation of the spine. Additionally, strengthening exercises should be performed to help maintain a good range of movement and general strength.
Massage therapy for spinal stenosis
Several types of massage are excellent for alleviating the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Deep tissue massage can help to release built-up tension in muscles, tendons and ligaments, greatly releasing the pressure on the spine. Swedish massage, a gentler form of massage, can also be used to gently relax the muscles and calm the nervous system.
When a patient is suffering from a flare-up, and inflammation is present, gentle, soft-tissue massage can be useful to help with circulation, which in turn, helps to settle the inflammation. At this time, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may also be prescribed by a medical practitioner. When a patient has recovered from a difficult flare-up, regular remedial massage may be advised to help lengthen the tissues and restore range of movement to the area.
Preventing a recurrence
Sufferers of spinal stenosis are likely to experience flare-ups from time to time. Following a regular exercise and stretching routine and thus maintaining a good range of movement and flexible muscles, should help to minimise recurrences. Added to this, regular massage sessions will help by not only releasing tension in painful areas but also by helping to calm the nervous system.
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