The Mysteries of Low Back Pain!

Do you realize how complicated the low back region is when it comes to investigating the cause of low back pain (LBP)? There can be findings on an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan such as degenerative disk disease, arthritis, even bulging and/or herniated disks that have NOTHING to do with why the back hurts. Similarly, there are often other abnormal findings present in many of us who have NO low back pain whatsoever! Because of this seemingly paradoxical situation, we as clinicians must be careful not to over-diagnose based on the presence of these “abnormal findings” AND on the same hand, be careful not to under-diagnose them as well.

Looking further into this interesting paradox, one study reported findings that support this point. Investigators examined 67 asymptomatic individuals who hadNO prior history of low back pain and evaluated them using magnetic resonant imaging (MRI). They found 21 of the 67 (31%) had an identifiable disk and/or spinal canal abnormality (which is where the spinal cord and nerves run). Seven years later, this same group of non-suffering individuals were once again contacted to see if they had developed any back problems within that time frame. The goal of the study was to determine if one could “predict” who might develop low back pain based on certain abnormal imaging findings in non-suffering subjects. A questionnaire was sent to each of these individuals, of which 50 completed and returned the questionnaire. A repeat MRI scan was performed on 31 of these subjects, and two neurologists and one orthopedic spine surgeon interpreted the MRI studies using a blinded approach (without having knowledge about the subject’s symptoms or lack thereof). Each level was assessed for abnormalities including disk bulging/herniation and degeneration. Those who had initial abnormal findings were defined as “progressed” (worsened) if an increased severity of the original finding was evident or if additional or new spinal levels had become involved over the seven-year time span.

Of the 50 who returned the questionnaire, 29 (58%) had NO low back pain, while 21 had developed LBP. In the original group that had the MRI repeated seven years later, new MRI findings included the following: twelve remained “normal,” five had herniated disks, three had developed spinal stenosis, and one had “moderate” disk degeneration. Regarding radiating leg pain, four of the eight had abnormal findings originally, two of the eight had spinal stenosis, one had a disk protrusion, and one an “extruded” (“ruptured”) disk. In general, repeat MRI scans revealed a greater frequency of disk herniation, bulging, degeneration, and spinal stenosis compared to the original scans. Those with the longest duration of LBP did NOT have the greatest degree of abnormalities on the original scans. They concluded that the original MRI findings were NOT PREDICTIVE of future development of LBP.

They summarized, “…clinical correlation is essential to determine the importance of abnormalities on MR images.” These findings correlate well with other studies, such as 50% or more of all asymptomatic people HAVE bulging disks and approximately 30% of us have herniated disks – WITHOUT PAIN. To be of diagnostic (clinical) value, the person MUST have signs and symptoms that agree with the imaging test, which is used to CONFIRM the diagnosis. Bottom line, If you have LBP, come see us, as we will evaluate and treat YOU, NOT your x-rays (or MRI) findings!

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.

Posture and Headaches

Posture and Headaches (HA) play a significant role in a person’s quality of life and are one of the most common complaints that chiropractors see. This comes as no surprise, as one survey reported 16.6% of adults (18 years and older) suffered from migraines or other severe headaches during the last three months of 2011. Another study reported that head pain was the fifth LEADING CAUSE of emergency department (ED) visits in the United States and accounted for 1.2% of all outpatient visits. These statistics are even worse for females (18-44 years old), where the three month occurrence rate was 26.1% and the third leading cause for ED visits! Because of the significant potential side effects of medications, many headache sufferers turn to non-medication treatment approaches, of which chiropractic is one of the most commonly utilized forms of “complementary and alternative approaches” in the management of tension-type headaches. So, why are headaches so common? Let’s talk about posture!

Posture plays a KEY ROLE in the onset and persistence of cervicogenic headaches. If there is such a thing as “perfect posture,” it might “look” something like this: viewing a person from the front (starting at the feet), the feet would flair slightly outwards symmetrically, the medial longitudinal (inside) arch of the feet would allow enough space for an index finger to creep under to the first joint (and NOT flat like so many), the ankles would line up with the shin bones (and NOT roll inwards), the knees would slightly “knock” inwards and hips would line up squarely with the pelvis. The shoulders would be level, the arms would hang freely and not be pronated (rolled) inwards, and head would be level (not tilted). From the side view, the knees would not be hyperextended nor flexed, the shoulders would not be forward (protracted) and MOST IMPORTANT (at least for headaches), the head would NOT be forward and be able to have a perpendicular line drawn from the floor through the shoulder, as this line should pass through the outer opening of the ear. As the head “translates” or shifts forwards, for every inch of “anterior head translation” (AHT), it essentially gains 10 pounds in weight, which the upper back and neck muscles have to counter balance!

A leading University of California medical author, Dr. Rene Calliet, MD, wrote that this altered posture can add up to 30 pounds of abnormal weight to the neck and can “…pull the entire spine out of alignment.” It can also reduce the lung’s vital capacity by 30%, which can contribute to all sorts of breathing-impaired health problems! Think of carrying a 30-pound watermelon around your neck all day – the muscle pain from fatigue would be tremendous! If this is left uncorrected, chronic neck pain and headaches from pinching off the top three nerves in the neck is likely. The combination of AHT and shoulder protraction may also lead to the development of an upper thoracic “hump” and potentially into a “Dowager Hump” if the Midback vertebrae become compressed (wedged). An increased rate of mortality of 1.44 is reportedly associated with this faulty posture!

Between chiropractic adjustments, posture retraining exercises, other postural corrective care, and strength exercise training, we WILL help you correct your faulty posture so that neck pain and headaches STOP and don’t progress into a chronic, permanent condition.

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 headaches, we would be honored to render our services.

Great Imposters of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is caused by compression and subsequent irritation of the median nerve as it travels through the carpal tunnel and into the hand where it innervates the palm side of the second to fourth digits. As stated last month, the median nerve is sometimes referred to as, “…the eye of the hand” since we rely so heavily on activities of daily living (ADLs) that require its health and function. Some of these ADLs include buttoning a shirt, picking up small objects, tying a shoe or neck tie, writing, holding a book or coffee cup, gripping items such as a phone or steering wheel, opening jars, household chores, and carrying objects, especially with the finger tips.

When patients present with CTS signs and symptoms, one would think that the examination and treatment would be fairly straightforward and “routine.” The problem is, no two cases of CTS are identical because of all the possible mitigating factors, or the presence of OTHER issues that may be contributing or may be the REAL cause for CTS in that particular person. This may explain the reason surgical release of the transverse carpal ligament doesn’t always work!

The “Great Imposters” of CTS include both physical and chemical factors. Physical factors include (but are not limited to): 1) Cervical nerve root compression: Since the median nerve originates from the C6-T1 (and a little from C5) nerve roots exiting the spine, it only makes sense that a pinched nerve in the neck can mimic a pinched nerve at the wrist. The difference here is “usually” that the whole arm is involved, which is less likely in CTS only. Moving down from the neck, the next most common location for a mechanical pinch is at the 2) Thoracic outlet: Here, the nerve roots coming from C5 to T2, like merging lanes of a highway, come together to make the three main nerves that enter the arm and along with the blood vessels, this “neurovascular bundle” leaves the upper chest region and travels through the thoracic outlet to enter into the arm. The thoracic outlet can become narrowed if there is an extra rib, a shift in the collar bone or shoulder blade, from muscles that are too tight (especially the anterior scalene and/or pectoralis minor), or from anything that occupies space within the thoracic outlet. 3) Struther’s ligament: In a few of us (only about 2%), there is a ligament just above the elbow that can entrap the median (as well as the ulnar) nerve, creating a pinch and subsequent numbness below that point, mimicking CTS. 4) Pronator tunnel: The median nerve is more commonly entrapped by the pronator teres muscle just below the elbow, and treating this location can be highly rewarding when managing stubborn CTS cases. Less common is entrapment in the mid-forearm, though it’s possible by either the interosseous membrane that connects the ulna and radius or from fracture of the ulna and/or radius. The most distal point of median nerve compression is at the carpal tunnel. Entrapments can be singular or multiple and when more than one “tunnel” compresses the median nerve, the term double or multiple crush is utilized. Management MUST address ALL points of compression to obtain long-term satisfying results. Other “imposters” of CTS include a host of conditions including (but not limited to) thyroid disease, diabetes, arthritis, pregnancy, birth control pill use, obesity, and MANY others! Chiropractic makes the most sense when it comes to managing CTS from mechanical causes. If response is slow or not satisfying, we will order tests and/or consults to get to the bottom of what “imposters” may be contributing to your CTS symptoms!

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 Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, we would be honored to render our services.

Fibromyalgia: Do I or Don’t I Have It?

Fibromyalgia (FM) is one of the most common types of chronic pain disorders with an estimated five million sufferers in the United States alone. A “hallmark” of FM is the difficulty its sufferers have in describing their symptoms. When asked, “…what type of pain do you feel?,” the response is often delivered with uncertainty such as, “…it’s kind of achy but sometimes gripping…it makes me stop what I’m doing sometimes for only a second or two, but othertimes, I have to sit or lay down until it passes.” It’s sometimes referred to as “deep inside” or radiating, shooting, tender, pins and needles, and locating the pain is another big challenge. It’s often a “generalized” deep ache that includes multiple body areas, sometimes all at once. At other times, it’s spotty and moves around. It’s typically NOT restricted to one side of the body but rather on both sides. It is these inconsistencies that makes diagnosing FM so challenging, sometimes to the point where it can literally takeYEARS before a patient is diagnosed. One study reported that of the 92% FM sufferers who had discussed their complaints with a primary care doctor, only 24% lead to the diagnosis of FM! It is often asked what makes FM so difficult to diagnose and the answer is simply, “…we can’t see it,” and, there are no definitive diagnostics like a blood test, an x-ray, or even more sophisticated tests that can be relied upon to easily make the diagnosis. Moreover, many FM sufferers have other conditions that overshadow FM signs and symptoms that often become the focus of her (or his) doctor.

Back in the early 1990s, the American College of Rheumatology reported “a system” for diagnosing FM. This consisted of a physical examination approach where a certain amount of pressure applied to at least 11 of 18 “tender points” had to be present. This was initially received with enthusiasm, as previously FM was a diagnosis made almost entirely on “gut instinct.” However, it soon became apparent that it was not so easy to interpret the patient’s response when these tender points were tested. Today, for a diagnosis to be made, there are three specific findings that are considered: 1) Wide spread muscle pain (in all four quadrants); 2) Pain that has been present for at least three months; and, 3) at least 11 of the 18 tender points are found – LESS emphasis is placed on the latter. The Fibromyalgia Pain Assessment Tool is a questionnaire filled out by the patient that can also help lead to the diagnosis of FM. Assessing the FM patient for other complaints or conditions commonly associated with FM include the following (% prevalence is reported by 1) Irritable bowel syndrome (32-80%); 2) Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) (75%); 3) Chronic fatigue syndrome – sometimes to the point where bed rest is mandatory (21-80%); 4) Tension or migraine headaches (10-80%); 5) Multiple chemical toxicities; (35-55%); 6) Interstitial cystitis (21%) which includes  eight months of bladder pain, urinary urgency, and frequency (more eight times a day and two times a night); 7) Restless leg syndrome (32%); and 8) Numbness, especially the hands and/or feet (44%). Other common complaints include sleep interference, which prevents deep sleep to be reached, depression or anxiety, concentration and/or memory problems, and more!

As chiropractors, we are trained to assess the FM patient, establish the diagnosis, and offer management strategies such as spinal manipulation, massage, exercise training, nutritional counciling, modalities, and more, which can significantly improve the quality of life of the FM patient. To achieve the best outcome, you may require the services of other types of healthcare providers, as the importance of co-management cannot be overemphasized!

If you, a friend or family member requires care for Fibromyalgia, we sincerely appreciate the trust and confidence shown by choosing our services!

Whiplash Self-Care: Part 2

Last month, we started the discussion of whiplash self-care options in the management of whiplash or CAD (cervical acceleration-deceleration) or WAD (whiplash associated disorders). In this series, we are describing various treatment methods that you can be taught to help facilitate in the management process during the four stages of healing (acute, subacute – discussed last month; remodeling and chronic – addressed this month).

Like in the acute and subacute stages, many of the same self-care techniques can be applied here as well. You will NEVER “hurt” yourself with ice or ice/heat combinations (done properly), so they can be continued indefinitely. Many patients find this helpful. Using the analogy of a cut on the skin, in the acute stage, the cut is fresh and new. It is quite pain sensitive and unstable and it will continue to bleed if you don’t take it easy. After 72 hours (entering the subacute stage), the wound has an immature scab on it and it can still easily be re-injured, and if this occurs, especially by NOT self-managing properly, the recovery time can be significantly prolonged. So, “DON’T PICK AT YOUR CUT!!!” As we enter the later subacute phase (fourteenth week), the wound’s scab is quite mature, and self-care can be appropriately more aggressive. Think strengthening and activity restoration!

Stage 3 – REMODELING phase (14 weeks to 12 months or more): In this stage, we are now three months to a year out from the injury date and hence, we SHOULD now be more “aggressive” with care. During the late acute and subacute stages, you would have been performing exercises focused on movement restoration (range of motion / ROM exercises with LIGHT resistance) in addition to self-applied myofascial release techniques using foam rolls, tennis balls, TheraCane, and/or the Intracell (and possibly others). It is NECESSARY to continue the use of these methods, as they help reduce the chances for any scar tissue to become permanent. In this stage, we will guide you into more advanced exercises that include aerobics (walking, walk/run combinations, etc.) as studies show that whole body aerobic exercise helps MANY specific area injuries, including WAD/CAD injuries. Stretching short/tight muscles, working on balance-challenging exercises (rocker or wobble boards, balance beams, gym balls, eyes closed specific action movements) are VERY IMPORTANT, as they retrain your neuromotor system and reintegrate neural pathways that have been disrupted by the injured tissues and retrain faulty movement patterns you’ve developed from compensating due to pain. Strengthening exercises will include the core since the head sits on the neck, the neck on the trunk, the trunk on the legs, and ALL of this sits on the feet (so we’ll even consider stabilizing the sub-talar joint at the ankle and if pronation is excessive, foot orthotics can help whiplash patients)!

Stage 4: CHRONIC (Permanent): ALL OF THE ABOVE can be employed after the one to two year point to “maintain” your best level of function. If you still have pain, try to “ignore it” and KEEP MOVING, stay active, stay engaged in work, family activities, and DON’T let the condition “win.” AVOID CHRONIC DISABILITY by staying active and fit!

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 Whiplash, we would be honored to render our services.