No doubt you've heard the term 'pinched nerve' before, but what, exactly, does it mean? As children we learn that being pinched hurts! Because the term is so descriptive, people continue to insist that they have a 'pinched nerve' whenever they experience pain, numbness, burning, or a 'pins and needles' feeling.
When a nerve is really 'pinched', it can produce sharp, intense pain guaranteed to make you miserable beyond anything you can imagine. The pain follows the nerve that is being 'pinched' like in sciatica where the pain travels down your leg or a 'pinched' nerve in your neck which follows the path into your arm, fingers, wrist, neck,head, back and shoulder. With billions of nerve fibres in your body, it's a wonder that nerves aren't pinched more often. "Pinched nerves" can affect your health, posture, vitality, and resistance to disease, even your emotional health. "Pinched" nerves can make your life miserable.
DO I HAVE A PINCHED NERVE?
I'm asked this question frequently in my practise. When the profession of Chiropractic was in it's infancy much of chiropractic treatment was aimed at un-pinching a nerve. After much research, we now know that 'pinched' nerves are rare. In reality, a pinched nerve is rare. The compression lesion or true pinched nerve is relatively rare, causing only 10 to 15% of spine related problems. It is more likely that an adjacent spinal joint has been irritated and is inflamed. Nerves are particularly sensitive to the chemicals involved in the inflammatory process. Other causes of local and referred pain are: muscle spasms and trigger points; normal joint pain referral; and joint capsule pain. A nerve that is under physical pressure usually produces numbness as a symptom and may not be painful.
Most often, pain comes from nerve tissues irritated by the rubbing, stretching or scraping of spinal joints that are displaced or not moving properly. Such problems are caused by many everyday events including; falls, car accidents, improper lifting, poor posture, sports injuries, sitting too long, repetitive work, sudden or violent movement, chemical or emotional stress, lack of exercise, or even hereditary factors.
WHAT DO NERVES DO?
Your sensory nerves carry sensations from all parts of your body to your brain. Without these nerves you would be unable to see, hear, touch, taste or feel. A second set of nerves, the motor nerves, convey messages from the brain back to all parts of the body. Motor nerves are what command your muscles to move in reaction to sensory messages. Your nerves also control the body's automatic functions such as breathing, heartbeat, digestion, excretion, internal organ function, sweating, shivering, blinking, blood supply to organs, blood pressure, and much more.
When something interrupts this flow of neural messages in either direction, it cannot only cause pain, but it can profoundly affect your health.
WARNING: NOT ALL PINCHED NERVES HURT!
Remember that only sensory nerves carry pain messages. When sensory nerves are badly damaged, you may not feel pain. So, in a way, people with painful pinched nerves are fortunate-their body is telling them that there's something wrong.
HOW DOES A NERVE BECOME IMPINGED?
Most often, misaligned spinal bones or a protruding disc is to blame. When a vertebra moves out of its proper position, it can place pressure on adjacent nerves interrupting the flow of neural messages. When nerves are compressed, their impulses may be altered, and the message is not conveyed correctly. This can produce a whole array of problems.
For example, nerve impingement may weaken the immune system, setting the stage for infection and disease. It may cause physical, or even emotional impairments. Impingement of nerves going to the stomach or intestines might cause ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal complaints.
When a disc is weakened due to mechanical stress, it too can cause nerve impingement. Your discs are the cartilage-like cushions occupying the spaces between spinal bones. They serve as spinal shock absorbers, allowing your back to turn and bend normally. Trauma or injury to the spine can cause discs to tear, bulge, herniate or even rupture. The resulting pressure on surrounding nerve tissues usually produces intense pain, or sometimes numbness. In addition to the spinal bones and disc in the affected area, there are also blood vessels, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and other tissues that may all be affected. Swelling and inflammation can add to the pressure on the nerves thereby increasing pain.
The degenerative chain-reaction caused by nerve impingement is called The Vertebral Subluxation Complex. It is the cause of many health problems that are seemingly unrelated to 'back problems'.
FINDING THE CAUSE OF YOUR PAIN
After reviewing your health history and a thorough physical exam, a series of chiropractic tests will be performed to determine the extent and source of your problem. When needed, x-rays give us vital information to help evaluate and diagnose your condition. They can be a valuable guide in helping to determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
Chiropractic spinal adjustments are designed to restore correct joint mechanics and thereby relieve irritated tissues and allow the body to heal. And we still do a great job at un-pinching nerves.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY SPINE IS UNHEALTHY?
Without pain it can be difficult to know if your spine is healthy or not. Some warning signs may include:
- Your shoes wear out unevenly
- You can't take a satisfying deep breath
- Your jaw "clicks"
- You have to "crack" your neck, back or other joints a lot
- You can't twist or turn your head or hips to either side equally and easily
- You have poor concentration
- You have low resistance to disease
- Your foot flares out when you walk
- One leg appears shorter than the other
- You have poor posture
- You have headaches, back aches, and/or sore tender spots in muscles or joints
- You have a constant stressful feeling and tension especially in muscles and joints
- You feel stiffness in your back and neck
- You just don't feel right or you are often fatigued
Because chiropractic treats the underlying causes of problems rather than just relieving symptoms, your body's own natural healing processes work for you. The chiropractic approach to better health is to find and correct interference's to your body's own natural state of good health. The course of treatment recommended by the Chiropractor will depend on the nature and severity of your problem.
B.Sc M.Chiropractic MNZCA
For more information on how chiropractic treatment can help, contact 09 378 0069