Hey everybody. This is Mike Uhrlaub with another episode of Power Your Life. We’re going to talk about a super exciting subject, spinal stenosis. If you know anyone who has it or perhaps you are dealing with it yourself, you know it can really limit your ability to function in daily life. We’re talking when you have spinal stenosis, it limits your walking and standing. It really creates problems for you such as how far you can walk. It affects people standing in long lines at the grocery store, going for hikes, and mowing the yard. The only way most people find relief is when they sit down and then the minute they stand up the pain returns.
Those with spinal stenosis have a real problem standing or walking for any length of time because the pain just gets to be so intense. They have no choice but to sit down. It usually affects those over the age of 55, I’ve even seen spinal stenosis in those under the age of 50, but I’ve seen it occur in those that are younger too. It is not just a normal part of aging; it isn’t just one of those things that happens to us as we get older. It just happens to hit the older population a little bit more frequently.
The Grocery Store Sign
When I suspect one of my clients may have spinal stenosis I ask them about“the grocery store sign.” The grocery store sign is when you’re going grocery shopping and it hurts so much to stand upright and walk. But you feel so much better when you’re pushing the cart. You have that really deep aching pain in the center of the back butt the minute you get a grocery cart and lean over on it a little bit, the pain goes right away. That is a classic hallmark sign of spinal stenosis. If you’re experiencing this you may have early spinal stenosis.
Now, the trouble is this will start to make you feel older than what your age really is. If you can’t stand upright, can’t walk for any length or distance, be on your feet for more than 10 minutes it really makes you feel limited.It makes you feel older than your years are and it’s extremely frustrating because it starts to take away your independence. You start feeling like you’re losing your ability to take care of yourself. Not to mention the limitations that it can cause with things like brushing your teeth or stooping over the sink when you’re trying to shave. Those things we take for granted.
Last year, I went through a biceps rupture on my right arm and had to have surgery. I was locked up in a cast from my fingers all the way to my shoulder and I’m right-handed. You do take for granted things like brushing your teeth, shaving, putting your contacts in; some of those basic self care type of things. It really makes you feel like you can’t take care of yourself.
What Exactly is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is where the nerves traveling between your spinal cord come out because they are getting compressed due to too much bone growing in the area. If we’re looking at your lower back and we open it up separating the vertebrae, this is where the spinal cord is. Off to the side is where your nerve comes off. What happens is the space around the spinal cord canal gets too much bone growing. This causes the joints to become arthritic and you’ll start getting bone spurs. They get bigger and bigger eventually overcrowding the space.
It’s kind of like when you’re packing a gym bag for an overnight trip and cram too many clothes into the bag so now you can’t zip it up. Just like that, there’s not enough room anymore. That bone has started to grow and pinch the nerves. This can trigger inflammation which causes swelling of the tissue and nerve creating further compression. So, when you are standing upright, it pushes the spine into more of an extended position. When you sit down, it actually opens up the spine and takes pressure off of it. Unless you go in and surgically remove the bone spurs you can’t get the pressure off of the spinal cord or the nerves.
The bigger problem with spinal stenosis is not so much, “Hey, I’ve got extra bone growing here,” but “why is that happening?” Why is the body all of a sudden deciding to grow more bone in that area and narrow the space around the spinal cord and nerve? The reason that occurs is because your body’s going to grow more bone in areas that are being stressed too much. So, if you’re not taking care of your back, if you are putting a lot of stress onto the spine, your body will begin to grow more bone to protect the joints. It tries to stabilize the area by growing more bone and calci deposits. Over time, you start to get spinal stenosis.
The Real Cause of Spinal Stenosis
If you want to improve the condition, reverse the pain, or keep it from happening you have to attack the real cause. The real cause of spinal stenosis is the imbalances in the body. These imbalances have been created by too much sitting, repetitive movements, job tasks, and even past injuries. Chronic inflammation in the body and what you eat has a very large impact in your inflammatory levels which can create issues with spinal stenosis too. If there’s chronic inflammation around the nerve root and in that joint, your body’s going to sense that. Then it’s going to start laying more bone down to stabilize it.
What Imbalances Are We Talking About??
What we’re talking about is your tight hip flexors. Here’s your pelvis. Your femurs come off of here and you have these muscles that come off of the spine. Then they come down through the front and actually fill in with another muscle in your pelvis which patches to the femur. We call that the Psoas. Down here, it’s called Iliopsoas. That is what allows the leg to come up or to flex. Now, the opposite side is your gluteal muscles. If your buttocks gets weak it causes another imbalance. Weak gluteal muscles combined with hyperactive tight hip flexors creates more compression to the spine. The Psoas muscle creates a pull in the front direction, which causes the back to want to extend.
The other imbalance that needs to be considered is the hips. Your femur fits into your hip joint and you have to imagine the leg coming off there. Your hip flexor attaches to the femur which goes right into the hip joint and your hip joint starts to get tight because your Psoas is tight and pulling. It’s going to affect when you bend over, pick things up, and how you walk. This causes more stress on the spine.
Weak Lower Abdominals
Your abdominal muscles are divided into an upper and lower half. The lower half are the ones that create a corset around the spine to decompress it because your spine is meant for stabilizing. It’s not meant to absorb all of the stress. Your muscles are designed to do that. We talked earlier about how the Psoas or hip flexor creates compression and weakens your gluteal muscles. We tend to call that the “disappearing butt syndrome.” You are literally losing your butt when this happens. That muscle is designed to stabilize the spine and back. When it gets weak, your overpowering hip flexors will create more compression. When you bend over all of that movement starts to occur at the spine instead of the hips which increases stress.
How Does the Psoas Muscle Create this Situation?
We talked about the Psoas coming off of the front and how it attaches to the femur. When you sit, imagine there’s a muscle coming off of here and attaching to the bone. When you stand up, the muscle stretches out, but sitting down the muscle shortens. If you are sitting a lot the hip flexor shortens and starts to shrink down to the point where it wants to stay like that. The same thing goes with bending, twisting, and pivoting. If you’re using these same muscles again and again in the same movements, it creates stiffening and loss of motion. This leads to tightness and weakness, which then creates imbalances.
What Can You Do to Fix This Problem and Avoid it From Even Happening in the First Place?
The first thing you can do is start working on the four areas above. Just pick one of them to start with and work on loosening up your hip flexors. Just do a couple of exercises to start loosening up your hips. It can be as simple as trying to put your right foot on top of the left knee. I call that the “figure four position”. Work on getting into a sitting position and stretch your hip out for 10 or 15 seconds. Doing these two to three times a day will make a big difference.
Next, strengthen the gluteal muscles, buttocks, and then the lower abdominals. Just start with one of the four areas of imbalances. You don’t have to do them all at one time. I don’t want you guys to get overwhelmed. I don’t want you to think, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know what to do”, then hit analysis paralysis and you don’t do anything at all. Just pick one and start working on it.
Alkalize Your Diet
The next thing you should do is take a look at your diet.Take a look at what you’re feeding yourself and focus on making a few key changes to what we call “alkalize”. Alkalize just means that you’re making your diet. The effects on your body are less acidic. Now, you might ask “what makes my body acidic?”Making your body less acidic takes minor changes. Almost anybody can make them. They’ll have an immediate impact on how your body heals and reduces inflammation. By making these changes you can avoid getting into these situations as you get older.
One of the changes you can make is cut out or reduce sugar and decrease your carb intake. Stop eating so much bread and pastries. They go into the body, become sugar, and make the inflammation in your body worse. Stay away from processed foods. If it’s something your taking out of a box, it’s probably not good for you.
Focus on Whole Foods
I tell a lot of my patients “if it doesn’t rot don”t eat it”. It’s just plain and simple. When my kids were younger, we made the mistake of letting them eat too much McDonald’s. It was easy at the time, especially when they’re really young. You go through the drive through, and you give them some chicken nuggets and fries. One day I was cleaning out the mess in the back of my car, I find some fries and then a chicken nugget. They were hard as a rock. We hadn’t been to McDonald’s in probably four months yet there isn’t any mold on either one of them.
I’m think, wait a minute here. These french fries and chicken nuggets have been in the back of the car for months and they haven’t started to stink or mold?! Man, that’s a problem. You want to talk about processed foods with a ton of preservatives and additives. Imagine what that is doing to your body. Reduce them.
Another thing you can do is cut out or reduce the amount of Dairy you consume. Dairy can have a negative impact on your body as you get older. I know you might be using yogurt for probiotics. But yogurt can have a very high sugar value to it. If you want those probiotics, think about just buying probiotics, instead of trying to get it from dairy. You can always supplement your calcium too.
Drink only water, coffee, or tea. Stay away from pop, juices and things that are flavored.
Eat Your Vegetables
I hate to say it, but my mom and my grandma were right.
Eat your vegetables and eat less meat. When you look at your plate, 80% of the plate should be a vegetable source and only 20% should be meat. If you make a few of those key changes, it will help reduce your body’s inflammation levels. In turn, that’s going to help reduce your pain, and weight at the spine. This can reduce the effects of spinal stenosis, or even keep it from happening in the first place. Some of these dietary changes can help you lose a few pounds too. Losing weight is just an added benefit.
Having spinal stenosis doesn’t mean all is lost. I don’t want you to give up. There’s hope. If you address these imbalances and make some of these key changes, you will start to see some positive changes in how your body feels.
I also wanted to let you know, I have a new eBook out titled The Five Best Kept Secrets to Fast Back Pain Relief. You can get your free copy by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can message me through Facebook messenger. definitely think about picking that up. There’s a lot of really good stuff in there and I believe it’ll definitely help you.
I’d like to leave you with this quote from a Norman Vincent Peale, and the quote says…
“fear is strong, but faith is stronger yet”.
I’ll let you chew on that one for a while.
Until next time, Power Your Life and keep moving forward.