Are back pain, numbness, weakness, and uncomfortable tingling sensation keeping you up at night and making everyday tasks more complicated than they should be?

You may be suffering from spinal issues such as herniated discs or spinal stenosis.

We see both conditions regularly as a leading chiropractic care provider in Singapore. And among the patients we see, it is common for them to think they have herniated discs instead of spinal stenosis and vice versa before getting seen by us.

By then, they may have already pursued treatments that may not be the most effective for their condition. They may have also been treating their backs in ways they thought were helpful, only to have worsened them.

To prevent these, we’re comparing these spinal injuries side-by-side—what each condition is, its causes and symptoms, and the best available treatment options.


What is spinal stenosis, and what causes it to happen?

compressed spinal nerves in the lumbar spine

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of one or more spaces within the spinal canal. This change of structure commonly occurs in two areas:

  • Lower back (lumbar spinal stenosis)
  • Neck (cervical spinal stenosis)

With less space within the spine, the spinal cord and nerve roots become irritated, compressed, or pinched, causing symptoms such as sciatica and low back pain.

This prevents the effective transmission of messages between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the nervous system.

Left untreated, a compressed spinal nerve or the spinal cord can lead to permanent numbness, weakness and/or paralysis.

The most common causes of spinal stenosis include:

  • Bone overgrowth/arthritic bone spurs from having osteoarthritis
  • Bulging disks/herniated disc
  • Thickened ligaments
  • Spinal injuries and fractures
  • Spinal cord cysts or tumours
  • Poor posture or spine mechanics


What are herniated discs, and what causes them to form?

disc herniation

Herniated discs, also called slipped, ruptured or bulging discs, are injuries of the spine.

They happen when one of these discs is weakened, causing it to lose structural stability and start to bulge out. At its severest, this can tear and even let the inner “jelly” leak out.

Intervertebral discs are round cushions between your vertebrae that buffer your bones and allow you to bend and move easily.

This spine injury typically affects the lumbar or cervical spine but rarely the mid-back.

Risk factors that contribute to a slipped disc include the following:

  • Accumulated stress and tissue damage that comes with ageing
  • Whiplash
  • Excess weight
  • Back or sports injury
  • Repetitive movements and/or strain from using improper lifting techniques
  • Lifestyle habits such as smoking, poor posture, and prolonged sitting


What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?

spinal stenosis symptoms

Although very rare, the condition can be present at birth (primary spinal stenosis/congenital spinal stenosis). For most cases, however, acquired spinal stenosis develops due to disease (e.g., degenerative disc disease) or injury.

It can also naturally, usually with repetitive chronic bad habits like poor posture, develop slowly over time such that those at the most risk for it are in their early 50s.

Thus, it is common for the condition to appear in X-rays and imaging tests earlier than when people start exhibiting symptoms.

When it does finally show up and depending on where your spinal stenosis is, some of the symptoms you may experience:

Lower back (lumbar) spinal stenosis

  • Pain in the lower back that may come and go
  • Numbness or tingling in the buttocks, leg, or foot
  • Sciatica or pain that extends down the leg or foot
  • Weakness in the leg or foot
  • Pain that worsens when standing for a long time
  • Relief from pain when leaning or slightly bending forward

Neck (cervical) spinal stenosis

  • Neck pain
  • Balance issues
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm, hand, leg or foot
  • Loss of function in hands
  • Weakness or clumsiness in the arm, hand, leg or foot


What are the symptoms of herniated discs?

herniated disc symptoms

Symptoms of a herniated disc vary depending on where the problem is in the spine, the most common areas being the lower back or neck.

Herniated lumbar disc or herniated disc in the back

  • Sciatic nerve pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Back pain
  • Tingling or numbness in the legs and/or feet

Herniated cervical disk or herniated disc in the neck

  • Tingling in the arms or legs
  • Increasing pain when you turn your neck
  • A painful sensation that travels to the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers
  • Pain in the back and on the sides of your neck and near or between the shoulder blades


So, what’s the difference between spinal stenosis and a herniated disc?

cause of spinal stenosis

Based on symptoms alone, it can be difficult to tell spinal stenosis and a herniated disc apart. Ultimately, the distinction lies in the cause of your pain.

 Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal or foramina (opening for nerves), which can put pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerves that travel through the spine, down the leg or arm, and into the feet or hands.

Meanwhile, herniated discs occur when the intervertebral disc becomes damaged to the point it pushes outward and can push against the spinal cord or foramina, creating local inflammation and potentially irritating the spinal cord or nerve roots.

Hence, it’s important to figure out the cause of your back pain, nerve pain, leg pain, or neck pain before attempting any home remedies, as this can worsen your condition.

If you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, the best next step is to consult with a spine specialist, such as our chiropractors at Elite Spine Centres.

A physical exam, medical history review, and radiographic imaging such as x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs are typically used to diagnose a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. Imaging scans allow us to rule out other conditions and pinpoint the type and location of the pain.

Once we know which condition is causing your pain and the likely root cause, whether congenital, degenerative, or otherwise, we can devise the right treatment plan for you.


Can chiropractic care treat spinal stenosis or herniated/slipped disc?

relieve pain

The first-line methods to treat herniated discs or spinal stenosis are usually invasive, temporary or painful methods such as steroid injections and pain medications.

In severe cases, doctors usually perform spinal fusion surgery or decompression surgery.

Unlike these other forms of treatment that usually only address the symptoms, chiropractors offer a holistic way to manage both spine conditions without drugs or surgical treatments.

With extra focus on identifying and correcting dysfunction in the normal movement and alignment of the joints and tissues of the spine, chiropractic adjustments can help to ensure the condition does not worsen and can help to significantly slow down further wear and tear.

For spinal stenosis, among the chiropractic techniques used for the condition are:

  • Non-surgical spinal decompression (NSSD)
  • Specific spinal manipulation
  • Whole body vibration (WBV)
  • Low-level laser therapy (LLLT)
  • Rehabilitative exercises similar to physical therapy

A different set of chiropractic techniques is used for herniated discs. This includes:

  • Non-surgical spinal decompression (NSSD)
  • Manual Therapy
  • Rehabilitative Exercises, including specific stretching and strengthening exercises for the back and abdominal muscles.
  • Additional modalities as needed, such as Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) and Radial Shockwave Therapy (RSWT)


The longer you wait, the more you risk long-term pain and damage

Anything that affects the spine is serious business.

Spinal stenosis and herniated discs are conditions of the spine. Thus, specialised treatment, such as chiropractic care focused on spinal care, is only fitting.

At Elite Spine Centres, we take the chiropractic approach to a new level with our total-body approach of the Functional Correction Method (FCM).

We also understand that every patient’s situation is unique, so we make sure to develop a personalised chiropractic care treatment for them every time.

To do this, our chiropractors will review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and perform neurological and orthopaedic tests to assess your health.

Freedom from pain can be just one call away.

Book an appointment with our team of chiropractors today.