Most diagnosis’s given by health care providers are no more than (poorly supported), educated guesses. Health science, (all disciplines with the exception of acupuncture, perhaps) cannot identify the true cause of back or neck pain 85% of the time. This 85% is more accurately called “Nonspecific Back or Neck Pain”.
Some of what we can accurately diagnose as a cause of spinal pain, when present, includes the following: Cancer, fracture, systemic arthritis (lupus, rheumatoid), nerve root compression (actual compressed nerve), visceral disorders and infections. Also, trauma or injury causing a sprain of the joint(s) or strain of the muscle(s), although the specificity of which joint(s) and how severe, is primarily educated guess work.
The following are commonly given diagnosis’s that have no basis or cannot not truly be correlated as the cause of back or neck pain: Subluxations (vertebra out of place), osteoarthritis, degenerative disc or joint disease, disc herniations, muscle spasms, muscle imbalance, muscle weakness, uneven pelvis, foot problems, tight hamstrings, tight hip flexors, weak abdominals, etc.
Most healthcare providers will give you a diagnosis, even if it’s poorly supported by science. That’s because, that’s what we’re taught to do and that’s what you want to hear.
Trauma, Injury, or Tissue Disruption
Most people equate injury to a specific event or occurrence that produces immediate pain or somewhat immediate pain associated with the event. Most case histories of back or neck pain do not bear this out. It’s believed that through repetition or prolonged load or stress, tissues (ligaments, discs, cartilage, tendons) can break down over time. This can lead to both mechanical and chemical pain syndromes. This is called Cumulative or Repetitive Stress Injury. Overload to the tissues as in an accident or overload in an acute abrupt manner is commonly called a Sprain/Strain Injury.
Spinal Sprain Healing Physiology
The healing process is broken down into three phases or stages:
1) Acute Inflammatory Phase: May last several days.
2) Repair Phase: May last up to12 weeks.
Beyond 8 to12 weeks, remedial therapeutic care has little to no value.
3) Remodeling Phase: May last up to 12 months or longer.
At this phase, regular therapeutic movement exercise, at home, benefits the most.
Supportive care may be beneficial, but only on an as needed basis!
Non-Specific Neck or Back Pain: This is a category of spinal pain not a diagnosis! As stated above, this category accounts for 85% of all back & neck problems. In the absence of the more serious causes of pain as listed above, the three most common subcategories of non-specific back or neck pain are mechanical, chemical, and chronic spine pain.
Understanding Mechanical Spine Pain
One form of mechanical pain is akin to bending your finger back until you feel pain. If your finger became stiff, it would hurt sooner if you bent it back, than it would if the joint were normal. For various reasons the spinal joints do stiffen and do hurt when we move. Some experts call this Joint Jysfunction. Therapeutic movement improves mobility and thus reduces pain associated with movement. Therapeutic movement is achieved by the clinician, “passively” or by the individual, “actively”. The ultimate goal is always to achieve results independent of the clinician whenever possible!
Mechanical pain can come from tissue disruption on the inside of the joint as well, similar to having a pebble in your shoe or a wrinkle in your sock that irritates or causes foot pain or discomfort. The internal components (cartilage, disc, meniscus, synovium, ligament) of joints can tear, migrate, swell, off-center or generally derange in all sorts of ways. This disruption can, but not always, produce mechanical pain until some return to normalcy is established. These types of mechanical pain syndromes can be demonstrated quite reliably and many times, will respond to therapeutic movements designed to reduce the deranged tissues in the joint. This type of joint problem is commonly called Joint Derangement. Mechanical pain can be associated with swelling or increased pressure on the tissue due to inflammation.
Chemical pain refers to the biochemical irritants associated with the inflammation process itself, and is usually associated with some sort of trauma/injury.
Chronic Back or Neck Pain: Chronic pain can be quite complex and difficult to manage. It’s not typically chemical and once assessed properly, many times responds favorably to mechanical forms of treatment.
Clinical Prediction Rules For Manipulation: In spite of this poor ability to diagnose, we can safely narrow down who might benefit from manipulation by means of established “Clinical Prediction Rules”: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2565597/
A McKenzie (mechanical diagnosis and treatment) assessment is the most reliable and valid way, not to mention successful and safe way, to more accurately assess and manage non-specific spinal pain!
If the problem is mild and purely chemical, it many times will resolve through natural course. If the problem is simple and mechanical, you may be able to work it out independently with movement exercises. At times you may need a little help from a healthcare provider to attain the necessary mechanical therapy (exercise, mobilization or manipulation) to resolve the problem. If the chemical pain is significant, along with a mechanical fault, you may need to resolve the chemical problem first, with medication or rest, before the mechanical issue can be addressed.
Surgery For Herniated Discs
In the absence of an obvious compressed nerve on MRI, associated with profound, progressive neurological deficits, surgery should not be performed unless all conservative measures have been exhausted. Studies show that outcomes are predominantly the same one-year later, with or without surgery, even with disc herniation and neurological deficit.
To treat chemical pain (inflammation) without drugs, and fewer side effects and less kidney & liver problems associated with anti-inflammatory drugs, Google, “alternative anti-inflammatory supplements”! Ice packs work well, too.
When you see a chiropractor, your plan of care should look and follow something like this:
Initial care will be directed at resolving potential acute/subacute pain and inflammation residuals with use of appropriate modalities as clinically indicated as well as protective activity modification (posture, body mechanics & ergonomic). Frequent breaks from prolonged standing, sitting, repetitive or prolonged activities are recommended. Specific restrictions given on a case-by-case basis.
Disc derangement (bulge/herniation) treatment and self-management procedures.
Remedial therapeutic care will be directed at preservation and improvement of joint & soft tissue mechanical properties by means of passive (doctor generated) and active (patient generated) mobilization procedures (progressive directional movement), as clinically indicated.
Further rehabilitative exercise may be necessary for functional stabilization. This is addressed on a case-by-case basis as clinically indicated.
This plan of care will be carried out on a trial probationary period of two weeks or less. An interim report will follow at that time with an outcome status and additional recommendations.
If in the event the patient fails to improve within this trial time frame or if the problem remains recurrent, a second medical opinion is advised. We will assist the patient in this referral process.
If you are not experiencing good results within 3 to 5 visits (2 weeks), care is not likely going to benefit you. It’s time for another opinion or approach. The natural history of healing in spinal injury is 6 to 8 weeks. Ongoing treatment beyond this time frame rarely makes you better. Most cases are resolved within 3 to 6 weeks, or less.
This is bad news because the outcomes of spinal fusion are less than stellar in the first place, in fact, they’re poor.
We’ve seen the evolution of back surgery, including fusion, an attempt to stop movement in the offending joints, change 180 degrees, to the disc replacement, trying to preserve movement. Both have demonstrated limited utility in addressing back pain. There are exceptions to the rule but studies and reviews prove that the lion’s share of these procedures are ineffectual and can have significant complications.
Let’s not forget microdiscectomy, chymopapain injections, percutaneous discectomy, percutaneous laser discectomy, and percutaneous arthroscopic (endoscopic) discectomy. These procedures are touted as less invasive, which is a good thing because the other procedures leave behind a wound site that looks like a bad accident, with plenty of scar tissue to follow. Not good! The less invasive procedures did reduce iatrogenic complications, but were only successful for a “select few”! Determining who is a good candidate for the procedure was and is the problem today.
So what’s my point? The rule in healthcare as it relates to spinal surgery for back or neck pain is; exhaust all conservative forms of care first. Statistically, once this is done your surgical success outcome increases a great deal!
Also note that the outcomes for all or no procedures are about the same in about nine months to a year. So, don’t rush to surgery, there’s usually no turning back after that fails and subsequent surgery outcome stats get worse and worse.
I practice two mechanical treatment protocols for disc problems, with a good success rate I might add, and with little to no complications. Go to GreathouseChiropractic.com for more information on conservative disc treatment protocols with good success rates.
Be Kind To Your Spine
Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care, and health policy. Internationally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care.
Growing Up Right
Why Chiropractic care is essential to your child’s spinal development.
See article: http://toyourhealth.com/mpacms/tyh/article.php?id=1450
Is chiropractic really essential to spinal development? Of course the answer is unequivocally no. I can say that without reservation because there’s no data to support such a statement. As far as aligning the spine goes, well, we can’t support that statement either.
This is the kind of stuff that chafes my tuchus. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some good stuff in this article. Kids can benefit from chiropractic care just as adults do and we can educate on the importance of good posture, body mechanics and ergonomics. But don’t promulgate such innuendo as; chiropractic care is essential to your child’s spinal development.
If your child complains of back or neck pain a chiropractor is qualified to assess, differentially diagnose and treat them. Some chiropractors will go a step further and tell you they can treat other ailments other than musculoskeletal problems and there is some anecdotal evidence of that. That’s OK as long as you are made aware of the anecdotal level of evidence and you are still willing to try it.
Most pediatricians will not recommend chiropractic care, likely because they have no clue as to what we do. What they likely do hear from their patient’s parents is all sorts of healing claims and of course that doesn’t sit well with them either. Chiropractors can help a lot of folks out there but the MD gets too much hyperbole feedback from their patients about chiropractic care claims and simply writes us off much of the time.
For good spinal health and development, in my opinion, children must be taught good spinal hygiene (mobility maintenance – posture – body mechanics – ergonomics) early on, just like dental hygiene training.
The back is more vulnerable at certain times of the day. In the first hour after awakening, or after prolonged static full flexion such as sitting or stooping, the body is at greatest risk. Bending stresses on the disc are increased by 300% and ligaments by 80% in the morning (Adams et al., 1987). McGill has reported that after just three minutes of full flexion, subjects lost half their stiffness, making them more susceptible to injury. (McGill 1999).
Be Kind To Your Spine!
“There has been a lot of research in recent years to identify people at risk for long-term pain and disability. What may surprise you is that most of the warning signs are about what people feel and do, rather than medical findings.”
Gordon Waddell, MD (Orthopedic Surgeon)
Is that possible? I like Obama but these politics are concerning. It’s time to take a look!
MRI Lumbar Spine Above
- Full end-range flexion in younger spines (due to higher water content) (Adams, Hutton 1982, Adams, Hutton 1985; Adams, Muir 1976).
- Repetitive end-range flexion loading motion cycles (King, 1993; Gordon et al., 1991). Epidemiological association between disc herniation.
- Sedentary sitting occupations (Videman et al., 1990).
Notice it’s not actually an event, like a heavy lift. Most of the time it’s a weakening of tissue and the straw that finally breaks.
Disc herniations are treatable with conservative care. We can help in most cases!