If you have had neck and arm pain (cervical radiculopathy) or low back and leg pain (sciatica), you know that it can be debilitating. I see patients with these conditions often and here are some observations I’ve had over the years when treating them.
-It’s not as simple as a vertebra being out of place and causing a pinched nerve. The nerves in your arms and legs originate from the spinal cord at the level of your neck and your lower back, or lumbar spine. Those nerves exit the spinal column through gaps between each vertebrae, and that is where they can become pinched by either bulging discs or bone spurs. Disc bulges and bone spurs are much more complicated problems than a theoretical bone slipping out of place and pinching a nerve. In that scenario, the bone could be put back into place to take pressure off of the nerve and the pain would resolve quite rapidly. Don’t get me wrong, we do get some people better quite quickly. In the case of cervical radiculopathy or sciatica, though, it isn’t often that simple. Some people give up on treatment too soon because they want it to be that simple.
-Even though it is not just a bone out of place, a chiropractor can still help. Adjustments do more than just move bones. Adjustments can decrease the pressure inside the discs, which are soft and squishy and made mostly of water. Chiropractic adjustments can also relieve pressure on the pinched nerve by temporarily opening up the space where it passes between the vertebrae. Perhaps most importantly, adjustments affect the communication of pain signals from your arm or leg to your brain. In essence, getting adjusted can turn the volume down on the pain signal. Adjustments are just one tool in a chiropractor’s tool box. While they might not cure sciatica or radiating arm pain alone, they can help make the rest of your rehab more effective.
-If you end up needing surgery, doing it later rather than sooner shouldn’t affect your outcome. I’ve had patients give up after not seeing results after 1 or 2 treatments, only to consult with a surgeon and move forward with surgery. If the pain is caused by a bulging disc, and it is bearable and you aren’t progressively losing function in your arms or legs, it is safe to wait for surgery while you give conservative care a real chance at helping you. This study shows that even 1 and 2 years after the onset of symptoms, patients have a relatively equal chance of good surgical outcomes as those undergoing early surgical intervention. So when I recommend a trial of care lasting 4 weeks with 2 visits/week, I’m not doing it to pad my pocket book. In my experience, that is giving conservative treatment a fair chance before considering more invasive options. It’s enough time and enough visits to make a change, but not too much time that it could affect your surgical outcome if it comes to that.
If you or a loved one are suffering from cervical radiculopathy or sciatica, give conservative treatment a chance before doing anything more invasive. Contact us with any questions or to schedule a visit. (503) 526-8782