Back Pain: Does Maintenance Care Work?

Non-specific low back pain (nsLBP) is one of the most common and costly healthcare problems affecting society, and it is also the leading cause of activity limitation and work absence around the world. 

Following a course of treatment to reduce pain and improve function for patients with a musculoskeletal complaint—such as back pain—doctors of chiropractic commonly make recommendations to reduce the risk of a future episode (or at least minimize its severity should one occur). These recommendations may include adopting a fitness routine, dietary modifications, specific exercises, foot orthotics, and/or routine “maintenance” chiropractic adjustments, such as once a month or every six weeks. 

Though further research is necessary to more clearly understand precisely how maintenance care (MC) works to reduce the risk of future episodes of back pain, researchers currently hypothesize that such treatments may improve any biomechanical or neuromuscular dysfunctions before they become symptomatic. 

Studies published in both 2004 and 2011 note that patients with chronic low back pain who received maintenance care for nine months reported less pain and disability than participants who did not receiving ongoing care. 

In a 2018 study that included 328 nsLBP patients, researchers found that those who received ongoing maintenance care following their initial course of treatment experienced 12.8 fewer days with LBP over the following year. Compared with patients who were advised to return for further care on an as-needed basis, the participants in the MC group only made an average of 1.7 additional chiropractic visits during the study. 

The authors of this study concluded, “For selected patients with recurrent or persistent non-specific LBP who respond well to an initial course of chiropractic care, MC should be considered an option for tertiary prevention.”

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Chiropractic Care for Headache Relief?

Woman Suffering From A HeadacheHeadaches have a significant impact on quality of life in both adults and children. Approximately 13% of patients who sought chiropractic care over the last decade did so for headache relief. Several studies have found that manual therapies, such as spinal manipulation and mobilization, can provide significant benefits for patients with both tension-type and migraine headaches—even better than standard medical care, in some cases.

In 2011, Canadian researchers reviewed data from 21 published studies to develop specific recommendations for chiropractic management of headaches. For episodic or chronic migraine and cervicogenic headaches (those caused by specific neck problems), they recommended spinal manipulation and other manual interventions, such as massage. Additionally, researchers noted that joint mobilization and strengthening exercises for the deep neck flexor muscles may also improve symptoms associated with cervicogenic headaches.

For episodic tension-type headache, the investigators did not find enough published evidence to support the use of spinal manipulation. They stated that, at the current time, “a recommendation cannot be made for or against the use of spinal manipulation for patients with chronic tension-type headache” (CTTH). However, they did report that low-load craniocervical mobilization “may be beneficial for longer term management of patients with episodic or chronic tension-type headaches.”

In contrast, following a randomized clinical trial of 80 patients with chronic tension-type headaches, Dutch researchers reported that “Manual therapy is more effective than usual [general practitioner] care in the short- and longer term in reducing symptoms of CTTH.”

Chiropractors utilize many types of manual therapies as a primary form of care for several complaints and conditions, including headaches.

Nutrition and Exercise for Hypertension

Hypertension is usually a silent disease that leads to cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and renal morbidity and mortality. This condition can seriously affect quality of life, reduce life expectancy, and place significant burdens on the healthcare system. Classic medications used to treat hypertension can involve side effects including headache, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, weakness, fatigue, and erectile dysfunction. Hence, many patients with elevated blood pressure look for other means to help manage their condition with fewer, if any, side effects.

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In a previous post, we discussed a 2007 study in which patients who received a specific cervical chiropractic adjustment experienced a reduction in their blood pressure that persisted for at least eight weeks. Lead author Dr. George Bakris, “This procedure has the effect of not one, but two blood pressure medications given in combination. And it seems to be adverse-event free. We saw no side effects and no problems.”

Herbal and dietary supplements have been used by patients to help manage hypertension (HT) for many years. A series of literature reviews have found the following may provide better and safer substitutes to conventional drugs: cod liver oil, garlic, coenzyme Q-10, beta glucan, lipoic acid, whole grains, potassium, magnesium, sodium, vitamin E, vitamin B6, vitamin C, polyphenol, various botanicals/herbs, and vanadium (see Table 1, https://bit.ly/2QVpcY7 ).

Regarding exercise, a 2018 research review found that aerobic exercise can reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients by 5-7 mmHg and that dynamic resistance exercises can lower blood pressure in adults with hypertension by 2-3 mmHg—which may rival the results achieved with first-line meds for hypertension.

While exercise, improving your nutrition, and getting regular chiropractic care are all part of living a healthier lifestyle, which can result in a healthier blood pressure reading, it’s important not to discontinue taking any medications unless instructed to by your treating physician.

What Is Frozen Shoulder?

Adhesive capsulitis (also known as “frozen shoulder”) is the end result of inflammation, scarring, thickening, and shrinkage of the capsule that surrounds the humeral head or “ball” part of the ball and socket joint. Adhesive capsulitis dramatically reduces the range of motion of the affected joint, which can severely impact one’s ability to carry out their normal daily activities. A frozen shoulder may or may not be associated with shoulder pain and tenderness. Though all movements are affected, raising the arm to the side is often the most impaired movement of the shoulder.

Conditions such as tendinitis, bursitis, and rotator cuff injury can lead to adhesive frozen-shouldercapsulitis, especially if the person refuses to move the shoulder for an extended length of time. Diabetes, chronic inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid) of the shoulder, and chest or breast surgery are known risk factors for adhesive capsulitis.

The condition is diagnosed following a review of the patient’s history for prior trauma caused by over reaching/lifting or from repetitive movements. The examination will look for severe loss of shoulder range of motion (ROM), both active and passive. X-ray, blood tests for underlying illnesses, and other imaging approaches may also be required to make a final determination for adhesive capsulitis.

Treatment for adhesive capsulitis has classically included an aggressive combination of anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, manual therapies (such as joint manipulation, mobilization, and traction), exercise training, ice (if painful), heat (if no pain), and physiotherapy modalities such as ultrasound, electric stimulation, laser, etc.

Exercises performed by the patient are also highly important for achieving a satisfactory outcome. The patient can begin immediately with pendulum-type exercises, long-axis traction (while sitting, grip the chair seat and lean to the opposite direction while relaxing the shoulder muscles to open up the ball-and-socket joint), and eventually strengthening exercises (TheraTube, TheraBand, light weights, etc.).

A recent study involved 50 patients with frozen shoulder (20 males, 30 females, ages 40-70 years) who underwent chiropractic care for a median time frame of 28 days (range: 11-51 days). Researchers looked at patient-reported pain on a 1-10 scale and their ability to raise the arm sideways (abduction). Of the 50 cases, 16 resolved completely (100%), 25 showed 75-90% improvement, 8 showed 50-75% improvement, and 1 experienced less than 50% improvement.

Different Headaches and Chiropractic Care

Adults may experience many different kinds of headaches. A primary headache is a headache that is not a part of another disease process. Secondary headaches can come from a poor eyeglass prescription, diabetes, the flu, or even a brain tumor. The most common primary headaches are tension-type, migraine, and cervicogenic (from the neck).

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In cervicogenic headache, neck function is prominently disturbed. In addition to neck pain, there are usually tight neck and shoulder muscles, and a limited range of motion.

Tension type headaches feel like a tight band around your head. Stress seems to aggravate them and women tend to get this type of headache more frequently.

Females are also more affected by migraine headaches.

There are two types of migraine: classical and common.

The classical migraine headache may start with nausea or sickness in the stomach and proceed to an intense throbbing pain on one side of the head.

The common migraine lacks this nausea and is more common than the classical type.

Research has shown that the three above described headaches can also overlap with one another. In chiropractic, we look to the spine as an often-overlooked factor in headache treatment. By objectively analyzing spine function, the doctor will identify the joints that are restricted in their range of motion or show abnormal posture and alignment. Many patients on x-ray, or through external postural analysis from the side, can show forward head posture. This is where the neck seems to arise from the front of the chest rather than back over your shoulders. The head is very heavy and with this poor posture, the muscles at the back of the neck must contract to restrain this heavy load.

There isn’t one particular bone that is treated for these different types of headaches, the premise being that the headache is a symptom of another problem in the spine.

Chiropractic care has an excellent safety profile and several studies have shown that patients with headaches positively respond to chiropractic care without the side effects often seen with drug treatments. Chiropractic care is one of the most researched non-drug options available for patients. Unfortunately, many patients choose over-the-counter and prescription medications and don’t consider more natural approaches that may get at the cause of the condition rather than just its effects.

 

Low Back Pain: Is It Your Feet?

The foot and ankle are unique in that their range of motion includes not only the front-to-back, hinge-like motion we associate with walking but also the lateral or side-to-side movement needed to change directions quickly. A problem in the foot can have a “domino effect’ that alters the biomechanics or the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, low back, and even the neck—potentially increasing the risk of injury in each these areas.

Back in 1995, Rothbart and colleagues reported that hyperpronation—or excessive rolling inwards of the foot and ankle—is a leading cause of pelvic repositioning and mechanical LBP. Just watch people from behind as they walk in a mall, airport, or grocery store and you’ll notice almost everyone’s ankle rolls inwards as they step downward. To maintain proper foot posture, the use of foot orthotics is the most practical approach— coupled with wearing well-fitted, comfortable shoes, of course.

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In a 2017 study, researchers recruited 225 adults with chronic LBP (more than three months) and randomly assigned them into one of three treatment groups: shoe orthotic (SO)-only, a “plus” group (SO + chiropractic manipulation/CM), or a waitlist group. The research team measured each participant’s pain and function/disability initially, after six weeks (the length of the treatment period), and then three, six, and twelve months later.

After six weeks, only members in the intervention groups reported any improvement in function. When comparing the waitlist and SO-only groups, the SO-only group demonstrated significantly greater improvements in both pain and function. The researchers also noted that members of the SO+CM group experienced even greater levels of clinically significant functional improvement.

This large-scale study supports the importance of examining the whole patient to identify and treat all factors that may contribute to a patient’s chief complaint.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Don’t Wait!

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when the median nerve is compressed as it passes through the wrist. Researches estimate that the average person has a one-in-ten chance of developing the condition in their lifetime, and the risk is higher for individuals in certain professions (such as those using heavy, vibrating tools) and with medical conditions (like diabetes). The symptoms associated with CTS involve pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hands and fingers, typically sparing the pinky and outer half of the fourth digit.carpal tunnel

Given that some of us are more likely than others to develop CTS, what should we do if we start to encounter symptoms associated with the condition?

Is it important to seek treatment right away or is it safe to wait?

Generally speaking, the faster a patient seeks care, the quicker they will respond to conservative treatment options like those offered in a chiropractic clinic. Delaying treatment may mean a longer recovery or even having to consider more invasive options, like a surgical procedure. But why is that?

Like many cells in the body, the nerves are provided nutrients by way of blood vessels. When even a small amount of pressure is applied to the median nerve, it can damage those blood vessels. Unless the vessels are given a chance to heal, the nerve can suffer. If the nerve damage is severe enough, even surgery may not be an option, and a patient may have to learn to live with their pain or find other ways to mask their symptoms.

One big problem with CTS is that patients rarely wake up with severe wrist pain that prompts them to seek treatment. Often, the condition is subtle with pain, numbness, and tingling that comes and goes. Individuals with CTS may find it more of an annoyance than anything and tend to put off treatment until the symptoms cause too much of an impact on their quality of life to ignore and they’re forced to call the doctor.

The good news is that patients often respond well to conservative care. Chiropractors often diagnose CTS and can effectively manage it without the need for more invasive surgical intervention, but the prognosis for an effective treatment outcome declines with the greater the degree of nerve damage. Hence, patients are encouraged to seek treatment sooner rather than later when it comes to CTS. Care often includes manual therapies (manipulation/mobilization), education (rest, ice, brace, exercise), nutrition (anti-inflammatory in nature), and more.