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.
For patients with chronic low back pain (cLBP), treatment guidelines recommend a non-surgical approach as the FIRST-LINE treatment. Ideally, the goal would be to avoid an initial surgery unless it’s absolutely indicated. That means, unless there is loss of bowel or bladder control or retention (which represents a medical emergency) or if there is progressive neurological motor and sensory loss, one can safely avoid surgery and conservatively manage the condition.
Interestingly enough, a systematic review of the results from three randomized controlled studies carried out in Norway and the United Kingdom found the outcomes or results between the surgical fusion vs. non-surgical treatment of patients with cLBP showed NO DIFFERENCE at an 11-year follow-up!
Studies have shown chiropractic to be highly beneficial for acute and chronic low back pain cases. In one study, researchers reviewed data on 72,326 cLBP patients in the Medicare system who received one of four possible treatment combinations between 2006 and 2012: 1) chiropractic only; 2) chiropractic followed by conventional medical care (CMC); 3) CMC followed by chiropractic; 4) CMC alone.
The research team found that chiropractic care alone (group 1) resulted in the lowest costs, and these patients had lower rates of back surgery and shorter episodes of care.
The group receiving CMC alone (group 4) had the highest costs, with the second and third groups being similar—both costing less and being more effective than CMC alone.
The conclusion of the study reads, “These findings support initial CMT [chiropractic manipulative therapy] use in the treatment of, and possibly broader chiropractic management of, older multiply-comorbid cLBP patients.”
A three-year study found that many patients with a degenerative spinal disease can avoid surgery through conservative treatment…like the type provided by our office.
If you or someone you know suffers from back pain, don’t delay & call our office today! We will define a plan to help get you back to the life you love.
Learn more about how chiropractic treatment can help resolve your back pain by clicking here:
Source: Demir-Deviren S et al. Comprehensive non-surgical treatment decreased the need for spine surgery in patients with spondylolisthesis: Three-year results. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2019 Jan 11. doi: 10.3233/BMR-181185. [Epub ahead of print] http://bit.ly/2V5tsGj
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.
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.
When patients present with low back pain, it is not uncommon for pain to arise from areas other than the low back, such as the hip. There are many tissues in the low back and hip region that are susceptible to injury with have overlapping pain pathways that often make it challenging to isolate the truly injured area. Hip pain can present in many different ways.
When considering the anatomy of the low back (lumbar spine) and hip, and the nerves that innervate the hip come from the low back, it’s no wonder that differentiating between the two conditions is often difficult. Complaints may include the inside, outside, front, or back of the thigh, the knee, the buttocks, the sacroiliac joint, or the low back and yet, the hip may truly be the pain generator with any of these presentations. To make diagnosis even more complex, the hip pain patient may present one day with what appears to be sciatic nerve pain (that is, pain shooting down the back of the leg to the knee if mild or to the foot if more severe) but the next visit, with only groin pain.
When pain radiates down a leg, the almost automatic impression by both the patient and their healthcare provider is, “…it’s a pinched nerve.” But again, it could be the hip and NOT a pinched nerve that is creating the leg pain pattern. Throwing yet another wrench in the works is the fact that a patient can have more than one condition at the same time. So, they truly MAY simultaneously have BOTH a low back problem AND a hip problem. In fact, its actually unusual to x-ray the low back of a hip pain patient without seeing some low back condition(s) like degenerative disk disease, osteoarthritis (spurs off the vertebrae), or combination of these. So, how do we differentiate between hip vs. low back pain when it is common for both low back and hip pain to often coincide?
During our history, we often ask the question, “…what activities make your pain worse?” If the patient replies that weight bearing activities like standing, walking, getting up from sitting, etc., provoke the pain (and they point to the front or side of the hip), a hip-related diagnosis is favored but it STILL may be arising from the low back or both! If they say, “…crossing my right leg over the other hurts in my groin,” then that’s getting more hip pain-specific as hip rotation is frequently lost before the forward flexion motion.
When we ask the hip pain patient to point to the area of greatest discomfort, they usually point to the front of the hip or groin, and less often to the inner and/or anterior thigh or knee. Non-weight bearing positions like sitting or lying are almost always immediately pain relieving. When there is arthritis in the hip, motion loss is often reported and may include a shorter walking stride and pain usually gets worse the longer these patients are on their feet. Initiating motion often hurts, sometimes even in bed when rolling over. During the chiropractic examination, with the patient lying on the back with the knee and hip both bent 90°, moving the bent knee outwards or inwards will almost always reproduce hip/groin area pain. Pulling on or applying traction to the affected leg usually, “…feels good.” Knee & ankle reflexes and sensation are normal but muscle strength may be weak due to pain. Bending the low back into different positions does not reproduce pain if the pain is only coming from the hip.
Though sometimes challenging, doctors of chiropractic are well-trained to be able to differentiate between hip and low back pain and will treat both areas when it is appropriate.
Low back pain (LBP) is one of the most common ailments that chiropractors treat. That’s probably because MOST of us will suffer from low back pain that requires outside help at some point in our lives! Posture has long been studied as a potential cause of low back pain, and this month’s topic will take a closer look at some recent research discussing this issue.
A December 2014 study looked at low back posture in two groups of LBP patients and its relationship with problems associated with intervertebral disk diseases. Looking at a person from the side, have you noticed that the low back area has an arched or inward curve? This is called the “lumbar lordosis” (or, the “sway back” area), and this can be highly variable in terms of the angle or amount of arch. It normally differs between males and females. Degenerative disk disease (DDD) is a common condition affecting virtually all of us at some point in time. DDD results in narrowing of the disk spaces, which there are five total in the lumbar spine (twelve in the thoracic spine/mid-back, and six in the cervical spine/neck).
One particular study evaluated a group of 50 patients with long-term intractable (chronic) low back pain with intervertebral disk disease and a group of 50 chronic LBP patients without DDD that served as a “control group.” Researchers measured the degrees of lordosis, or amount of curve (lumbar lordosis), by looking at the person from the side using two different methods in the two patient groups and compared the data. The group with degenerative disk disease had an overall reduction in the lumbar lordosis curve (less arched) using both methods of measuring. The authors concluded that the patients with intervertebral disk lesions had a straighter, or more flat curve (less sway back), when compared to those without disk degeneration. What they were unable to determine was which came first, the disk degeneration or the reduction in the lumbar lordosis?
This study points out several important points. When treating patients with low back pain, some patients feel better when placed in a bent forwards position, or they favor a flat low back curve. Others have the opposite response, or their position of preference favors a more curved (arched) lower spine. The reason for this difference is that LBP is generated from different tissues in the low back, and some tissues favor or feel better in one position and typically feels worse in the opposite direction when injured. The intervertebral disks in the spine lie between the vertebral bodies and serve as “shock absorbers” for the spine and trunk. The center, or “nucleus,” of the disk is liquid-like and is usually well contained inside the disk, held by a tough, outer fibrocartilage material (the “annulus”).
The disk is approximately 80% water, and as we age, the water content gradually reduces and the disk spaces narrow, thus limiting the mobility of that part of the spine. More importantly, DDD usually narrows the size of the canals through which the spinal cord and nerve roots travel. When we bend forward, these canals open up wider placing less pressure on the nerves and/or spinal cord.
This is why we often see elderly people leaning on grocery carts when shopping, as it hurts less and they can walk longer / farther. Those with herniated disks tend to be the opposite, as they favor bending backwards as this position shifts the nucleus or liquid center forwards and away from the nerve root thus reducing the pinched nerve resulting in less or complete elimination of radiating leg pain.
Low back pain (LBP) accounts for over 3 million emergency department visits per year in the United States alone. Worldwide, LBP affects approximately 84% of the general population, so eventually almost EVERYONE will have lower back pain that requires treatment! There is evidence dating back to the early Roman and Greek eras that indicates back pain was also very prevalent, and that really hasn’t changed. Some feel it’s because we are bipedal (walk on two legs) rather than quadrupedal (walk on four limbs). When comparing the two, degenerative disk disease and spinal osteoarthritis are postponed in the four-legged species by approximately two (equivalent) decades. But regardless of the reason, back pain is “the rule,” NOT the exception when it comes to patient visits to chiropractors and medical doctors. Previously, we looked at the surgical rate of low back pain by comparing patients who initially went to spinal surgeons vs. to chiropractors, and we were amazed! Remember? Approximately 43% of workers who first saw a surgeon had surgery compared to ONLY 1.5% of those who first saw a chiropractor! So, the questions this month are: How successful IS spinal surgery? What about all those patients who have had surgery but still have problems – can chiropractic still help them?
A review of the literature published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons showed that in most cases of degenerative disk disease (DDD), non-surgical approaches (like chiropractic care) are the most effective treatment choice. They report the success rate of spinal fusions for DDD is only 50-60%. The advent of artificial disks, which originally proposed to be a “cure” for symptomatic disk disease, has fared no better with possible worse long-term problems that are not yet fully understood. The authors of the review wrote, “Surgery should be the last option, but too often patients think of surgery as a cure-all and are eager to embark on it… Also, surgeons should pay close attention to the list of contraindications, and recommend surgery only for those patients who are truly likely to benefit from it.” Another study reported that, when followed for ten years following artificial disk surgery, a similar 40% of the patients treated failed and had a second surgery within three years! Similar findings are reported for post-surgical spinal stenosis as well as other spinal conditions.
So what about the success rate of chiropractic management for patients who have had low back surgery? In a 2012 article, three patients who had prior lumbar spinal fusions at least two years previous were treated with spinal manipulation (three treatments over three consecutive days) followed by rehabilitation for eight weeks. At the completion of care, all three (100%) had clinical improvement that were still maintained a year later. Another study reported 32 cases of post-surgical low back pain patients undergoing chiropractic care resulted in an average drop in pain from 6.4/10 to 2.3/10 (that means pain was reduced by 4.1 points out of 10 or 64%). An even larger drop was reported when dividing up those who had a combination of spinal surgeries (diskectomy, fusion, and/or laminectomy) with a pain drop of 5.7 out of 10 points!
Typically, spinal surgery SHOULD be the last resort, but we now know that is not always practiced. IF a patient has had more than one surgery and still has pain, the term “failed back syndrome” is applied and carries many symptoms and disability. Again, to NOT utilize chiropractic post-surgically seems almost as foolish as not utilizing it pre-surgically!
Statistics suggest that low back pain (LBP) will plague most of us at some point in our lives, if it hasn’t already. Most healthcare professions that manage patients with low back pain focus on pain management. In fact, studies have reported that 67% of patient satisfaction is driven by pain elimination. One of the most common strategies for reducing pain is managing inflammation. The “easiest” way to do this (according to the many TV commercials and magazine advertisements) is to take one of the many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin), Piroxicam Flurbiprofen, and Indomethacin. Let’s take a closer look to see if this is a good or bad idea!
In a recent March 2015 article, researchers investigated the use of NSAIDs between 1993 and 2012 in patients who had fractures that failed to heal, technically called “non-union fractures.” They found that non-union fractures increased during years when NSAID use was increasingly recommended for patients with fractures and dropped in years when NSAID use declined. This isn’t the first study to report poor fracture healing results from NSAIDs when they’re used as the primary form of pain relief and in fact, studies on this subject date back to the early 1990s. So how does this equate to LBP? Most directly, fractures are one of the many causes of LBP, so for that population, the answer is clear. However, LBP is much more commonly caused by sprains (ligament injuries) and strains (muscle/tendon injuries), as well as cartilage injury. Here too, studies show that the healing rate of sprains, strains, and cartilage is also delayed when NSAIDs are used as the primary pain relief approach. This healing delay is reportedly due to NSAIDs’ inhibition of “proteoglycan synthesis,” a component of ligament and cartilage tissue regeneration and repair. NSAIDs also inhibit release of prostaglandins (especially prostaglandin E2), which is needed for tissue repair. These effects are ESPECIALLY observed with long-term use, but recent studies show injured athletes are best off NOT taking NSAIDs AT ALL as these drugs delay the healing process and thus the athlete’s ability to return to their sport.
In a January 2015 study, researchers criticized the common use of NSAIDs in elderly patients for the treatment of non-cancerous pain. They found 75% of the elderly population studied was prescribed NSAIDs which, in retrospect, the researchers determined to be inappropriate! Because NSAIDs interfere with healing, the net effect is an ACCELERATION of osteoarthritis and joint deterioration! In 1995, a North Carolina School of Medicine study compared four groups of patients with soft tissue injuries (tendon strains): Group 1 received NO treatment (control group); Group 2 received exercise only; Group 3 received exercise AND Indomethacin; and Group 4 received Indomethacin only. At 72 hours post-injury, ONLY the exercise group had an INCREASE in prostaglandins (E2 particularly – necessary for healing). This effect was even more profound at 108 hours after injury. The research team also found DNA synthesis in the fibroblasts (an important part of the repair mechanism) was greatest in the exercise group and was completely lacking in the NSAID-only group.
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.
Piriformis syndrome results from compression of the sciatic nerve as it passes underneath a muscle in your buttock called the piriformis. Your piriformis muscle attaches from the lowest part of your spine (sacrum) and travels across to your hip. The muscle helps to rotate your leg outward when it contracts. In most people, the sciatic nerve travels deep to the piriformis muscle. When your piriformis muscle is irritated or goes into spasm, it may cause a painful compression of your sciatic nerve. Approximately ¼ of the population is more likely to suffer from piriformis syndrome because their sciatic nerve passes through the muscle.
Piriformis syndrome may begin suddenly as a result of an injury or may develop slowly from repeated irritation. Common causes include: a fall onto the buttocks, catching oneself from a “near fall,” strains, long distance walking, stair climbing or sitting on the edge of a hard surface or wallet. In many cases, a specific triggering event cannot be pinpointed. The condition is most common in 40-60 year-olds and affects women more often than men.
Symptoms of piriformis syndrome include pain, numbness or tingling that begins in your buttock and radiates along the course of your sciatic nerve toward your foot. Symptoms often increase when you are sitting or standing in one position for longer than 15-20 minutes. Changing positions may help. You may notice that your symptoms increase when you walk, run, climb stairs, ride in a car, sit cross-legged or get up from a chair.
Sciatic arising from piriformis syndrome is one of the most treatable varieties and generally is relieved by the type of treatment provided in this office. You may need to temporarily limit activities that aggravate the piriformis muscle, including hill and stair climbing, walking on uneven surfaces, intense downhill running or twisting and throwing objects backwards, i.e., firewood. Be sure to avoid sitting on one foot and take frequent breaks from prolonged standing, sitting and car rides. You may find relief by applying an ice pack to your buttock for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day.
If you experience any of these symptoms, give our office a call 772-286-5277.
The hip is a very unique joint. The depth of the socket, the strength of the muscles and ligaments surrounding it, and the way it functions in weight bearing activities is unlike any other joint in the body. The focus this month is on the relationship between the hip and the rest of the body.
The hip joint is a synovial joint, meaning it moves freely. It is a ball-and-socket joint that is made up of the femoral head (the “ball”) and the acetabulum (the “socket”). The ball is largely contained within the cup or socket, though there are genetic and cultural differences with regards to the depth and shape of the hip joint in any one individual.
The relationship between the hip and the surrounding joints is intimate in that each joint affects the next. For instance, ankle pronation—or the inward rolling of the foot and ankle—results in a knocked knee, which can then shift the hip outwards. The pelvis then drops down on that side, the tailbone or sacrum becomes unleveled or sloped, and the lower spine curves to compensate with the ultimate goal of keeping your eyes level. Hence, when your hip hurts, your doctor of chiropractic will examine and treat the ENTIRE lower kinetic chain—the foot, ankle, knee, hip, pelvis, and spine—as ALL are so closely related to each other. When it comes to managing you and your hip pain, be prepared for management of any of the following:
Once ankle pronation is properly corrected with a rear foot post and the hind foot is repositioned back to neutral (if LLD persists) a heel lift can be placed under the foot orthotic to corrective this imbalance. ONLY then will the pelvis become level and stable so it can properly serve as a strong foundation for the spine the rest of the body to rest on!
We haven’t touched the subject of muscle imbalance, strengthening of commonly weak hip extensor muscles, or stretching of overly tight hip flexors and adductor muscles—topics for another day! The good news—doctors of chiropractic can help you with this common problem!
Cliff Atwell, B.S., D.C.