Low back pain (LBP) can arise from disks, nerves, joints, and the surrounding soft tissues. To simplify the task of determining “What is causing my LBP?” the Quebec Task Force recommends that LBP be divided into three main categories: 1) Mechanical LBP; 2) Nerve root related back pain; and 3) Pathology or fracture. We will address the first two, as they are most commonly managed by chiropractors.
Making the proper diagnosis points your doctor in the right direction regarding treatment. It avoids time wasted by treating an unrelated condition, which runs the risk of increased chances of a poor and/or prolonged recovery. Low back pain is no exception! The “correct” diagnosis allows treatment to be focused and specific so that it will yield the best results.
Mechanical low back pain is the most commonly seen type of back pain, and it encompasses pain that arises from sprains, strains, facet and sacroiliac (SI) syndromes, and more. The main difference between this and nerve root-related LBP is the ABSENCE of a pinched nerve. Hence, pain typically does NOT radiate, and if it does, it rarely goes beyond the knee and normally does not cause weakness in the leg.
The mechanism of injury for both types of LBP can occur when a person does too much, maintains an awkward position for too long, or over bends, lifts, and/or twists. However, LBP can also occur “insidiously” or for seemingly no reason at all. However, in most cases, if one thinks hard enough, they can identify an event or a series of “micro-traumas” extending back in time that may be the “cause” of their current low back pain issues.
Nerve root-related LBP is less common but it is often more severe—as the pain associated with a pinched nerve is often very sharp, can radiate down a leg often to the foot, and cause numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness. The location of the weakness depends on which nerve is pinched. Think of the nerve as a wire to a light and the switch of the nerve is located in the back where it exits the spine. When the switch is turned on (the nerve is pinched), and the “light” turns on—possibly in the outer foot, middle foot, inner foot, or front, back or side of the thigh. In fact, there are seven nerves that innervate or “run” into our leg, so usually, a very specific location “lights up” in the limb.
Determining the cause of your low back pain helps your doctor of chiropractic determine which treatments may work best to alleviate your pain as well as where such treatments can be focused.
Reprinted with Permission ChiroTrust
Low back pain (LBP) can strike at any time or place, often when we least expect it. There are “self-help” approaches that can be of great benefit, but many of these approaches can fail, or worse, irritate the condition. Here are some “do’s and don’ts” when self-managing low back pain!
Ice vs. Heat? Typically, people are almost always confused about which is better, ice or heat? This decision can be significantly helpful or hurtful, depending on the case. Generally, “ice is nice,” as it vasoconstricts and pushes out inflammation or swelling, which usually feels relieving and helpful even though the initial “shock” of ice may not be too appealing to most of us! This is probably why MOST people will wrongly choose heat as their initial course of self-care. This is usually wrong because heat vasodilates, which draws blood into the injured area that is already inflamed and swollen, thus adding more fluid to the injured area—sort of like throwing gas on a fire! Heat may feel good initially, but often soon after, increased pain intensity and frequency may occur. When LBP is chronic or NOT new/acute, heat can be very helpful, as it relaxes muscles and improves movement by reducing stiffness (but never use heat more than 20 minutes per hour). The biggest mistake about the use of heat is leaving it on too long—some people even burn themselves with a heating pad they’ve left on for hours of continuous use—sometimes overnight (PLEASE DON’T DO THAT!). When using ice, there are MANY ways one can apply it. If you only have 5-10 minutes, that is better than nothing! However, an ideal approach is to apply the ice pack or bag as follows: On 15 min. / off 15 min. / on 15 min. / off 15 min. / on 15 minutes (total time: 1:15 hr). The “off 15 minutes” helps the area to warm up by allowing the blood to come back into the low back area, which avoids frost bite and sets up a pump-like action.
Even better is an approach called “CONTRAST THERAPY” where we start and end with ice and use heat in between as follows: ICE 10 minutes / HEAT 5 min. / ICE 10 min. / HEAT 5 min. / ICE 10 min. (total time: 40 minutes). This approach creates a stronger pump-like or “push-pull” action that pushes out fluids/inflammation (with ice) followed by pulling in fluids (with heat). Both approaches are effective! If you ever feel worse after icing, PLEASE STOP AND CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR OF CHIROPRACTIC, as you may have a unique case or situation.
How active should I be? Here too, most people usually try to do too much even after they feel “warning signs”. It’s human nature to want to “…get things done,” so sometimes we push ourselves beyond the limits of our tissue’s capacity, resulting in an injury. Once we’ve hurt our back, we STILL try to stay with our daily routine, ignoring our LBP the best we can. Generally, it’s BETTER to be a little active than it is to be too sedentary, but there is also a limit, as too much activity is like “…picking at a cut,” only prolonging healing and recovery.
If every time you bend over results in a sharp, dagger-like pain in your low back, PLEASE STOP and assess the situation! Position preference is the KEY to determining what type of stretches or other exercises may be best for you. So, if bending over REDUCES LBP, pull your knees to your chest (your doctor of chiropractic can show you how)! If bending backwards feels better, he or she can show you several extension exercises that can be done multiple times a day. Remember, too much sitting or lying down will weaken your low back muscles. Emphasize positions that feel good and avoid sharp, shooting pain!
Headaches are REALLY common! In fact, two out of three children will have a headache by the time they are fifteen years old, and more than 90% of adults will experience a headache at some point in their life. It appears safe to say that almost ALL of us will have firsthand knowledge of what a headache is like sooner or later!
Certain types of headaches run in families (due to genetics), and headaches can occur during different stages of life. Some have a consistent pattern, while others do not. To make this even more complicated, it’s not uncommon to have more than one type of headache at the same time!
Headaches can vary in frequency and intensity, as some people can have several headaches in one day that come and go, while others have multiple headaches per month or maybe only one or two a year. Headaches may be continuous and last for days or weeks and may or may not fluctuate in intensity.
For some, lying down in a dark, quiet room is a must. For others, life can continue on like normal. Headaches are a major reason for missed work or school days as well as for doctor visits. The “cost” of headaches is enormous—running into the billions of dollars per year in the United States (US) in both direct costs and productivity losses. Indirect costs such as the potential future costs in children with headaches who miss school and the associated interference with their academic progress are much more difficult to calculate.
There are MANY types of headaches, which are classified into types. With each type, there is a different cause or group of causes. For example, migraine headaches, which affect about 12% of the US population (both children and adults), are vascular in nature—where the blood vessels dilate or enlarge and irritate nerve-sensitive tissues inside the head. This usually results in throbbing, pulsating pain often on one side of the head and can include nausea and/or vomiting. Some migraine sufferers have an “aura” such as a flashing or bright light that occurs within 10-15 minutes prior to the onset while other migraine sufferers do not have an aura.
The tension-type headache is the most common type and as the name implies, is triggered by stress or some type of tension. The intensity ranges between mild and severe, usually on both sides of the head and often begin during adolescence and peak around age 30, affecting women slightly more than men. These can be episodic (come and go, ten to fifteen times a month, lasting 30 min. to several days) or chronic (more than fifteen times a month over a three-month period).
There are many other types of headaches that may be primary or secondary—when caused by an underlying illness or condition. The GOOD news is chiropractic care is often extremely helpful in managing headaches of all varieties and should be included in the healthcare team when management requires a multidisciplinary treatment approach.
Content Courtesy of Chiro-Trust.org. All Rights Reserved.
Dealing with an injury is not only painful but can be frustrating as well when you’re sidelined from your regular fitness routine. If you’ve ever been injured or had to sit out due to illness, you know that deconditioning happens very quickly. In fact, muscles begin to shrink within days, and cardiovascular fitness starts decreasing after two to three weeks without training. The good news is that there are ways you can stay in shape even while recovering from an injury. Here are our suggestions:
1. First things first, see us before getting back into any form of exercise, especially if you have a back or neck injury. We can determine if it’s safe for you to begin physical activity and develop a rehabilitation program to keep you healthy.
2. Seek alternative methods of exercise. There’s always something you can do to work around your injuries and maintain a level of fitness. Low impact workouts like swimming or aqua aerobics are often good ways to exercise while injured.
3. Focus on training un-injured areas. If you have an ankle or leg injury, try a circuit of exercises that don’t require you to stand up and use your lower body, such as chest presses, seated rows, and core workouts you can do on the floor. For an upper-body injury, you can still get a great workout in by using just your legs (think leg presses, lunges, and the stationary bike).
4. Focus on creating or improving other healthy habits like getting more sleep or eating nutritious foods.
5. Lastly, be patient and give yourself a break. Rest and time are essential parts of the healing process. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. When you’re able to jump back into your old routine, you’ll have hopefully been able to maintain a reasonable level of fitness by using these tips.
Evidence-based chiropractors explain the disconnect between symptoms and imaging findings.
Recently, Daimon K et al. (2018) published a landmark study for EVERY evidence-based chiropractor. It highlights the notion that degenerative changes are merely age-related and do not necessarily correlate with symptoms. This study assimilates two decades of sequential imaging to prove that there little association between degeneration and clinical symptoms:
“results of our statistical analysis and the different rates of disc degeneration versus clinical symptoms reported here and elsewhere, the degenerative findings on cervical MRI do not appear to be generally associated with the development of clinical symptoms.” (1)
Structural findings take months or years to progress. Acute symptoms usually occur within moments to days after a trauma, or change in activity, movement, hobby, or habit. Structural abnormalities can complicate tissue failure, but are not directly correlated with symptoms. It is essential that we focus on what is correctable and what is not. There is no treatment to eliminate the degenerative changes in the spine; however evidence-based chiropractic care can effectively and efficiently resolve symptoms.
Arthritic and degenerative changes are a fact of life. It is important not to focus on what shows up on imaging but rather focus on what we can do with the cards that were dealt.
“the rate of degenerative progression at one intervertebral disc level on MRI over the 20-year period was 95.3%, whereas the rate of the development of clinical symptoms was 66.9%. Statistical analysis of the relationship between the progression of the 5 degenerative findings in the cervical spine and the occurrence of clinical symptoms only detected a significant association between foraminal stenosis and upper limb pain.”
When a patient presents with a one-week onset of neck pain; is it from their stenosis? NO! The cervical narrowing has been there for years. Is it a complicating factor? YES. We treat the patient’s symptoms by focusing on the functional reasons the pain started. Once the pain is gone, the stenosis will still be there. Our office educates the patient to not blame their arthritis for every malady affecting their life. We focus on their habits, hobbies, and postures to eliminate the stressors on their body that are exacerbating their spinal condition. This same paradigm works for disc pathology, or chronic meniscus injuries, or SLAP lesions, or…(name your chronic structural lesion)
“A study of clinical symptoms and cervical MRI findings by Siivola et al. showed that neck and shoulder pain in young adults was not associated with disc degeneration, an annular tear, or disc protrusion on MRI.”(2)
When you think of low back pain, you may visualize a person half-bent over with their hand on the sore spot of their back. Since many of us have experienced low back pain during our lifetime, we can usually relate to a personal experience and recall how limited we were during the acute phase of our last LBP episode. However, when the symptoms associated with LBP are different, such as tingling or a shooting pain down one leg, it can be both confusing and worrisome – hence the content of this month’s article!
Let’s look at the anatomy of the low back to better understand where these symptoms originate. In the front of the spine (or the part more inside of the body), we have the big vertebral bodies and shock absorbing disks that support about 80% of our weight. At the back of each vertebrae you’ll find the spinous and transverse processes that connect to the muscles and ligaments in the back to the spine. Between the vertebral body and these processes are the tiny boney pieces called the pedicles. The length of the pedicle partially determines the size of the holes where the nerves exit the spine.
When the pedicles are short (commonly a genetic cause), the exiting nerves can be compressed due to the narrowed opening. This is called foraminal spinal stenosis. This compression usually occurs later in life when osteoarthritis and/or degenerative disk disease further crowds these “foramen” where the nerves exit the spine. Similarly, short pedicles can narrow the “central canal” where the spinal cord travels up and down the spine from the brain.
Later in life, the combined effects of the narrow canal plus disk bulging, osteoarthritic spurs, and/or thickening or calcification of ligaments can add up to “central spinal stenosis.” The symptoms associated with spinal stenosis (whether it’s foraminal or central) include difficulty walking due to a gradual increase in tingling, heavy, crampy, achy and/or sore feeling in one or both legs. The tingling in the legs associated with spinal stenosis is called “neurogenic claudication” and must be differentiated from “vascular claudication”, which feels similar but is
caused from lack of blood flow to the leg(s) as opposed to nerve flow.
At a younger age, tingling in the legs can be caused by either a bulging or herniated lumbar disk or it can be referred pain from a joint – usually a facet or sacroiliac joint. The main difference in symptoms between nerve vs. joint leg tingling symptoms is that nerve pinching from a deranged disk is located in a specific area in the leg such as the inside or outside of the foot.
In other words, the tingling can be traced fairly specifically in the leg. Tingling from a joint is often described as a deep, “inside the leg,” generalized achy-tingling that can affect the whole leg and/or foot or it may stop at the knee, but it’s more difficult to describe by the patient as it’s less geographic or specific in its location. Chiropractic management of all these conditions offers a non-invasive, effective form of non-surgical, non-drug care and is the recommended in LBP guidelines as an option when treating these conditions.
Cliff Atwell, B.S., D.C.