Because the spinal cord is housed by the spine and the exiting nerve roots communicate with the autonomic nerves that basically run our organ function, maintaining alignment of the spine and pelvis is very important to minimize nerve irritation and subsequent health-related problems. The focus of this article is on leg length, its effect on our posture, methods of assessment, and treatment.
Leg length plays and important role in posture. When there is a difference in leg length, the pelvis cannot maintain a level position, and because the spine’s base is the pelvis, it cannot stay straight if there is a leg length discrepancy.
Doctors of all disciplines realize the importance of leg length, especially orthopedic surgeons as they consider a hip or knee replacement! There are many causes of leg length issues, and some include a genetic predisposition (inherited) or trauma during bone growth years.
From a treatment standpoint, a heel lift (with or without arch supports) can be placed into the shoe on the short leg side. Unfortunately, there is not a 1 to 1 mm correction of the leg length deficiency with heel lifts. In adults, it has been reported that about a 66% correction occurs, which means a 10 mm lift would result in around a 6.6mm leg length deficiency correction.
Many doctors have found that it is usually wise to GRADUALLY increase the amount of heel lifting, and so patients often start with a 5mm lift and at one week intervals, increase it to the next height, such as 7mm, followed by 9mm, and so on. At 12mm (0.5”), problems with the heel lift being pushed out of the shoe and/or sliding forwards in the shoe may prohibit the use of these thicker lifts after which point the bottom of the shoe can be built up by a shoe cobbler (some services can be found online as well).
Most of us have suffered from back pain at one time or another. It often occurs after over-doing a physical task, like fall yard work, winter snow shoveling, working on the car, cleaning the house, and so on. But there are times when identifying the cause of back pain can be difficult or impossible. Let’s take a deeper look at where back pain can come from…
Though activity-related back pain is common, many times a direct link to over-use is not clear. Micro-traumatic events can accumulate and become painful when a certain threshold is exceeded. (Think of the old adage “The straw that broke the camel’s back.”)
There are other less well-identified causes of back pain. One is called referred pain. This can be caused by an irritated joint or soft tissue not necessarily located in the immediate area of the perceived pain. For example, pain in the leg can result from an injured facet joint, sacroiliac joint, and/or a disk tear (without nerve root pinch). This is called “sclertogenous pain.”
Internal organs can also cause back pain. This is called a “viscerosomatic response” (VSR). A classic example of this is when the right shoulder blade seems to be the source of pain when the gall bladder is inflamed. This pain can be located at or below the scapula next to the spine and the muscles in the area are in spasm and sensitive or painful to the touch. Also, VSR is often not worsened or changed by bending in different directions (unlike musculoskeletal / MSK pain). Without further testing, it’s easy to confuse this with a MSK or a “typical” back ache. Ultimately, a final diagnosis may require an abdominal ultrasound (CT, MRI scan, and other diagnostics are less frequently used).
Visceral pathology in the back pain patient presenting to chiropractors is reportedly rare, and according to one survey, only 5.3% of patients present with non-musculoskeletal complaints. Other common VSR pain patterns are as follows: Heart – left chest to left arm, mid-upper back, left jaw; Liver – right upper shoulder (front and back), right middle to low back, and just below the sternum; Appendix – right lower abdomen (may start as stomach pain); Small intestine – either side of the umbilicus and/or between it and the breast bone; Kidney – small of the back, upper tailbone, and/or groin area; Bladder – just above the pubic bone and/or bilateral buttocks; Ovaries – groin and/or umbilical area; and Colon – mid-abdominal and/or lower quadrants.
Another challenge to diagnosis is cancer in the spine, which can be primary or metastatic (from a different location). Thankfully, this is very rare. A history of unexplained weight loss, a past history of cancer, over age 50, nighttime sleep interruptions, and no response to usual back care may lead a doctor to recommend tests to determine if cancer is present in the spine.
Bottom line: When patients present with back pain, chiropractors have been trained to look for these less common but important causes of back pain. They get “suspicious” when the “usual” orthopedic tests do not convey the usual responses seen with mechanical back pain. In these cases, they work with primary care doctors to coordinate care to obtain prompt diagnostic testing and treatment.
We realize you have a choice in whom you consider for your health care provision and we sincerely appreciate your trust in choosing our service for those needs. If you, a friend, or family member requires care for back pain, we would be honored to render our services.
Successful evidence-based chiropractors continually leverage new studies to improve their clinical decision-making. ChiroUp helps me by scouring fresh literature to mine out useful best practice data. This month, we’ve summarized more than a dozen studies for your review.
1. A new (very large) European Spine Journal Study examined the risk of acute lumbar disc herniation requiring early surgery in patients who visited a chiropractor vs. those who visited a PCP:
“The risk for acute LDH with early surgery associated with chiropractic visits was no higher than the risk associated with PCP visits. Both chiropractic and primary medical care were associated with an increased risk for acute LDH requiring ED visit and early surgery. Our analysis suggests that patients with prodromal back pain from a developing disc herniation likely seek healthcare from both chiropractors and PCPs before full clinical expression of acute LDH.”
P.S. Abundant research has revealed a similar conclusion for the relationship between cervical manipulation and stroke. Click here to download a helpful patient education handout regarding the safety of neck manipulation.
Hincapié, C.A., Tomlinson, G.A., Côté, P. et al. Eur Spine J (2018) 27: 1526.
2.A systematic review of carpal tunnel syndrome research comparing surgical vs. non-surgical outcomes found: “No significant differences at 3 or 12 months” in terms of functional status, symptom severity, and nerve conduction outcomes. Interestingly, the surgical patients experienced greater improvement at 6 months, but not before or after.
Qiyun S. et al. Comparison of the Short-term and Long-term Effects of Surgery and Nonsurgical Intervention in Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Hand. 2018 Jul 1:1558944718787892. [Epub ahead of print]
3.A study of more than 500 pregnant women found: “If both P4 and ASLR tests were positive mid-pregnancy, a persistent bothersome pelvic girdle pain of more than 5 days per week throughout the remainder of pregnancy could be predicted.”
Malmqvist S, Kjaermann I, Andersen K, et al Can a bothersome course of pelvic pain from mid-pregnancy to birth be predicted? A Norwegian prospective longitudinal SMS-Track study BMJ Open 2018;8:e021378.
4. A systematic review found no correlation between LBP intensity and the degree of MODIC degenerative change in the lumbar spine.
Herlin C et al. Modic changes—Their associations with low back pain and activity limitation: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. PLoS1 2018 Aug 1;13(8):e0200677. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200677. eCollection 2018.
5. According to a systematic review with meta-analysis in the journal Physiotherapy: “There is very low evidence to support the use of trigger point dry needling (TDN) in the shoulder region for treating patients with upper extremity pain or dysfunction.”
Hall, Michelle Louise et al. Effects of dry needling trigger point therapy in the shoulder region on patients with upper extremity pain and dysfunction: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Physiotherapy , Volume 104 , Issue 2 , 167 – 177
6. A JMPT study of 82 cervicogenic headache patients found, “upper cervical spinal mobilization increased cervical range of motion and induced immediate headache relief.”
Malo-Urriés, Miguel et al. Immediate Effects of Upper Cervical Translatoric Mobilization on Cervical Mobility and Pressure Pain Threshold in Patients With Cervicogenic Headache: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, Volume 40 , Issue 9 , 649 – 658
7. A study of more than 6000 chiropractic patients revealed that few (5.4%) of the chiropractic patients used narcotics for their chronic pain, which is substantially lower than the 45% to 60% use typically found in chronic LBP populations. Additionally, if chiropractic care was no longer a covered insurance benefit, 30% of patients would continue as is, 61% would go less often, and only 7% would discontinue care.
Herman, Patricia M. et al.Characteristics of Chiropractic Patients Being Treated for Chronic Low Back and Neck Pain. JMPT 2018 Aug 15. [Epub ahead of print]
8. “Opioids are no more effective than non-opioid medications in the treatment of acute and chronic low back pain.”
Wertli, M.M. & Steurer, J. Pain medications for acute and chronic low back pain. Internist (2018). 2018 Aug 16. doi: 10.1007/s00108-018-0475-5. [Epub ahead of print]
9. A new article in the Journal of Family Practice endorsed a select group of therapies that show “good-quality patient-oriented evidence” for managing chronic low back pain. The journal advised physicians to:
10. A recent spine Journal study was “the first to measure facet gapping during cervical manipulation on live humans. The results demonstrate that:
Anderst WJ et al. Intervertebral Kinematics of the Cervical Spine Before, During and After High Velocity Low Amplitude Manipulation. The Spine Journal Available online 22 August 2018
11. A study of 100 fibromyalgia (FM) patients found recurrent “electrodiagnostic features of polyneuropathy, muscle denervation, and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)”.
Caro XJ, Galbraith RG, Winter EF. Evidence of peripheral large nerve involvement in fibromyalgia: a retrospective review of EMG and nerve conduction findings in 55 FM subjects. Eur J Rheumatol 2018; 5: 104-10.
12. A study of 40 collegiate athletes found that application of elastic therapeutic tape over the gluteus medius “improved strength immediately after taping (and) it was maintained even on the third day.” Hip taping also generated short-term correction of dynamic knee valgus.
Rajasekar, Sannasi et al. Does Kinesio taping correct exaggerated dynamic knee valgus? A randomized double blinded sham-controlled trial. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies , Volume 22 , Issue 3 , 727 – 732
Let’s first look at the anatomy of the neck in order to better understand the structures of the cervical spine that can generate pain. Starting at the back of the spine, the facet joints allow us to move our neck and head in all directions, and each facet joint is surrounded by a joint capsule that is rich with nerve endings and when swollen, can generate pain both locally and radiating.
One study of volunteers with existing neck pain looked at the various pathways that pain travels when investigators injected each individual facet joint capsule with normal saline solution. Interestingly, the subjects felt pain in parts of the body other than just the neck. For example, injecting the C6 facet joint capsule consistently reproduced radiating pain down the arm into the thumb side of the forearm and hand, similar to when a disk herniates and a nerve root is pinched. The primary difference was that a deep aching pain occurred in this area, as opposed to a more geographically well-defined pathway when a disk ruptures and pinches a specific nerve root.
The intervertebral disks are small shock absorbers that lie between each vertebral body. These disks are sort of like a jelly doughnut, which can sometimes leak out and pinch a nerve root producing pain (as well as numbness, tingling, and even weakness) that radiates along the course of the nerve.
Poor posture is perhaps one of the most common causes of neck pain. The muscles in the chest tend to be stronger than those in the upper back and pull the shoulders forward resulting in forward head carriage with protracted shoulders. For each inch of forward head shift, an additional ten pounds is added to the weight of the head, which already weights around ten to twelve pounds. Hence, a five-inch forward head carriage places an additional 50 pound load on the upper back and neck just to hold the head upright!
Doctors of chiropractic are trained to identify these faulty postures and track down the pain generator(s) when a patients presents with neck pain. Through patient education, spinal manipulation, mobilization, exercise training, modalities, and more, chiropractors can greatly help those struggling with neck pain!
Content Courtesy of Chiro-Trust.org. All Rights Reserved.
Cliff Atwell, B.S., D.C.