When you think of sciatica, especially if you’ve ever experienced its debilitating pain, strong leg pain comes to mind. But, as with most conditions, there is a range of symptoms, and more than one cause of sciatica. The symptoms can range from localized pain in one or both buttock regions to excruciating pain all the way down the back of the leg to the foot. If the cause is structural a chiropractic adjustment can provide ready relief.
Let’s take a closer look at the varying forms of sciatica, its causes, and how chiropractic adjustments can help both with back pain relief and with correcting the root cause of the problem.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve, the longest and biggest nerve in the body – extending from the lower back all the way down to your toes.
The Many Faces of ‘Ouch’
What are the symptoms of sciatica? Irritation of the sciatic nerve can result in any number of symptoms including PAIN (of course), but also numbness, weakness, burning, or a more subtle sensation that’s not really pain and not really numbness, but just feels ‘odd’ or different.
Low back pain is common with sciatica, but is not always present. Whatever symptoms you do experience, their location may be only in the buttocks or they may travel all the way down the leg to the foot. The symptoms may be on one side or on both sides, and the intensity may be stronger on one side vs. the other. Interestingly the symptoms may also be found only in isolated body parts – such as the foot or calf only.
What Causes Sciatica?
There are three main causes of sciatica:
1. Because the sciatic nerve originates in the low back, one cause is impingement or pressure on one of the nerves forming (or contributing to) the sciatic nerve. Such nerve impingement can be from a malpositioned bone in your lower back or from a bulging disc.
2. A second location where the sciatic nerve can be irritated is in the pelvis at the sacroiliac joint. If you have ever fallen on your hip or pelvis; if you have ever broken a leg bone or had a major foot, ankle, knee or hip joint injury or surgery; if you have a muscle imbalance from performing a particular sport or activity – you may have a rotated pelvis which stresses a sacroiliac joint, and from there the sciatic nerve that runs right in front of it.
3. The third location where pressure can be put on the sciatic nerve is in the buttocks. There are many muscles located there and the sciatic nerve passes underneath these muscles- at least they are supposed to. In some unlucky people the sciatic nerve passes through a muscle called the piriformis muscle. So, if it contracts, it can actually pinch or ‘scissor’ the sciatic nerve. Simple actions such as pressing on the gas pedal while driving, can cause this muscle to contract thereby pressing on the sciatic nerve.
Heres What You Need To Know About Sciatica
When you are feeling the intense pain of sciatica, understandably all you want is for the pain to go away. At such moments there is a temptation to seek drugs – and the stronger the better. While prescription medication or some over-the-counter (OTC) pain meds or anti-inflammatory formulas may provide some temporary relief, we advocate treatment that gets to the source of the problem: a structural examination by a chiropractor that may include spinal x-rays,
Back to School Backpack Basics
American kids are suffering from back pain and neck pain earlier in their lives and in larger numbers than ever before. And if you’re a parent of school-age children, it’s important for you to know that overweight, improperly designed, and misused backpacks may be one of the big reasons for this growing problem.
This isn’t really news. The truth is that healthcare researchers and practitioners around the world have recognized the issue for a long time and have continued to call attention to it. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that a backpack should not be any heavier than 15% of a child’s body weight, but:
- In 1999, researchers in Italy reported that about 35% of Italian schoolchildren carried more than 30% of their body weight at least once a week—actually exceeding the limits recommended for adults. The average sixth grader’s backpack was the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-pound man or a 29-pound burden for a 132-pound woman. And of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60% had experienced back pain as a result.
- As early as 2001, researchers at Simmons College in Massachusetts found that 55% of the 345 children they studied were carrying backpacks that exceeded the recommended weight limit, often by a substantial amount. One third of those students said that they had already experienced back pain.
- A 2012 study by researchers in Spain found that 61.4% of 1403 students between the ages of 12 and 17 carried backpacks that weighed more than 10% of their body weight and that those carrying the heaviest backpacks had a 50% higher risk of back pain.
More than Just a Short-Term Health Risk
With an estimated 40 million school-age children carrying backpacks in America, it’s not at all surprising that there are some book bag-related injuries every year. Since 2000, the U.S. Product Safety Commission has reported that children and their backpacks make roughly 7,000 trips to the emergency room annually. However, many observers believe that the real toll is actually far higher since the vast majority of such injuries go unreported and many kids are treated by a family doctor or not treated at all.
It’s not clear how many acute injuries actually result from wearing backpacks as opposed to tripping over them or being hit by them. However, doctors who treat back problems regularly—especially chiropractic physicians—see worrying signs that heavier backpacks are setting the stage for more serious health issues in the future, including chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. Some chiropractors estimate that as many as 75% to 80% of the teenage patients they treat have postural problems directly related to overweight backpacks. This is one reason why the American Chiropractic Association advises parents to limit the weight of a child’s backpack to no more than 5% to 10% of body weight.
What’s Behind the Heavier Backpacks?
In an age of online education and mobile devices, you might be tempted to think that kids’ backpacks would be getting lighter. Not so. Across the past ten years, several factors have come together to increase the amount of weight young students are carrying in their book bags:
- Increases in the amount of homework being assigned to students at a younger age typically mean more heavy books carried between home and school.
- A trend toward removing lockers and individual desks from schools in many cases requires kids to carry all their belongings with them during the day.
- Reduced time between classes or fewer trips to the locker can mean heavier loads for students.
- Longer school days or increased participation in before-school and after-school activities often translates into more supplies and equipment as well as more time wearing the backpack.
How to Choose the Right Backpack and Use it Correctly
A good quality backpack with proper ergonomic features doesn’t have to be expensive. They’re available at many sporting goods stores and discount outlets. Experts offer the following advice:
- Get the size and fit right first. The right backpack should fit between the top of your child’s shoulders and lower back. Bigger is not better, since having more space available creates the potential for a heavier backpack.
- Find one with shoulder straps that are wide, padded and adjustable. These distribute the weight more broadly across the shoulders and chest while allowing the backpack to be fitted snuggly to your child’s body.
- For older students, consider a backpack with chest straps and a hip belt. Chest straps and a hip belt redistribute weight even further and bring the pack closer to the wearer’s body.
- Look for a padded back that will add comfort and protection.
- Choose a backpack with multiple smaller compartments. These help distribute the weight inside the bag and keep it stable.
Once your child has the right bag, it’s just as important to encourage him or her to use it correctly. Chiropractors and physical therapists generally agree that means wearing it on both shoulders with the straps tightened so that it hangs no more than four inches below the waist.
Recognizing the Warning Signs
If you see any of the following signs, it may be time to lighten the load, help your child choose a different backpack or talk about how it’s being used.
- Pain in the back, neck, shoulders or knees
- Red marks left on shoulders by backpack straps
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
- Trouble getting the backpack on or off
- Bending forward or “hunching over” to shift weight from the shoulders to the back
Asking Your Chiropractor for Help
Under normal circumstances, using a backpack shouldn’t cause any pain or discomfort. If your child is showing signs of back, neck or should pain, we encourage you to call or visit our office today. In addition to addressing any current problems that your child may be experiencing, your chiropractor can recommend an exercise program designed to strengthen muscles, and improve posture and coordination.
If you’re actively trying to lose weight—or just trying to maintain a healthy weight—you probably already know that fast-food restaurants are not your friends. Well, a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that full-service restaurants may be an even more hostile environment for well-intentioned dieters.
Eating out pretty much means eating more.
The study, analyzing the eating habits of over 12,000 Americans over a period of seven years, found that people who eat in fast-food restaurants consume 194 extra calories per day, and those who eat in full-service restaurants consume an extra 205 calories per day. Given the rates at which people eat in restaurants, this means that the average American consumes an extra 24,000 calories per year while eating out, which results in 6 to 7 pounds of extra weight. The extra calories come primarily from eating larger portions than we would normally eat at home. And it turns out that this is an even bigger problem in full-service restaurants than it is in fast-food restaurants. Plus, restaurant food generally contains far higher levels of saturated fats and salt than food prepared at home.
So how can you enjoy eating out without packing on the pounds?
As a general strategy, diet experts suggest that you assume that all restaurant meals contain two to three times the number of calories that you need in a meal. This means that in most cases the most you should eat is half of the restaurant serving. One easy way to do this, even in a full-service restaurant, is to have the server box up half of it as “take away” before bringing it to the table, so you’re not tempted to eat the whole thing. There are many other great strategies for enjoying your restaurant experience without overdoing it, and we’ll list some of them here:
- If you’re on a diet, choose your restaurants accordingly. American, Mexican, and Italian restaurants are going to serve you twice as much protein, carbs, and calories as you really need. Japanese, Thai, Greek, or salad bar restaurants will be easier on your waistline.
- Learn to ask for low-calorie preparation methods. “Pan-fried,” “crispy,” and “alfredo” are code words for “dishes that are delicious but full of fat and calories.” You can often enjoy the same dishes without the extra calories by asking for them to be broiled or grilled instead of fried.
- Pick leaner cuts of meat, like flank steak or filet mignon in place of a rib-eye steak, or choose chicken breasts (preferably without the skin) instead of fattier chicken thighs. Or order fish, which is usually lower in calories, as long as it’s not fried.
- Start your meal with a low-cal soup (tomato- or broth-based, as opposed to a cream soup), or with a nice salad. Order your salad dressing on the side and don’t use more than two tablespoons of it (the “serving size” most restaurants give you is more like ten tablespoons).
- Consider ordering a couple of items from the appetizer menu rather than ordering a full entrée, or share large entrées with a friend.
- Try to avoid dishes with creamy sauces or gravies, since these can double the total calories in the entrée.
- Order a side of vegetables and ask the server to “Double or triple the amount, please.” You can offer to pay extra, but most restaurants will do this at no extra charge.
- For a beverage, stick to water or low-fat milk rather than sodas, sweetened teas or coffees, or beer and wine.
- Try to avoid “all you can eat” buffets and “special offers” that tempt you to eat more than you really want or need. Remember that the thing most often being “supersized” in these common restaurant promotions is your waist!
- Skip the bread basket. If you need before-meal snacks, order a side of raw vegetables. Obviously, skip the desserts at the end of the meal, too.
Try a few of these strategies next time you eat out. You’ll probably find that they help cut down on calories while you’re eating AND that they help you feel better about your restaurant meal afterwards!
Should you eat like a caveman? Supporters of the Paleo Diet say “Yes!” This popular new diet trend focuses on eating the same types of foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived on hundreds of thousands of years ago. It’s certainly an intriguing idea, but is it a good one? Read on for a little bit of perspective on the Paleo Diet.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet is a food plan that attempts to mimic a paleolithic style of eating. Refined sugars, processed foods, legumes, dairy, and grains are all out. Instead, dieters focus on animal meat and products, vegetables, fruits, raw seeds and nuts, and some added fats like avocado and coconut oil. The theory is that by abstaining from the ingredients most common in the modern diet, you can avoid modern health problems like obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Just How Healthy Were Our Ancestors?
A diet rich in lean meats, vegetables, and healthy fats is absolutely a good idea, but is it really necessary to go as far as proponents of the Paleo Diet suggest? Probably not, especially considering that hunter-gatherers were not exactly paragons of health themselves. While our ancestors were unlikely to suffer from obesity or diabetes, they were extremely susceptible to other problems that may have stemmed from nutritional gaps as well as parasites and infectious diseases.
Even more intriguing, a study published in The Lancet found that a very high proportion of hunter-gatherers suffered from atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries that increases the risk of heart disease and stroke). After comparing 137 mummies from civilizations all over the world, the study found that 47 showed evidence of atherosclerosis. That’s more than one in three.
A Diet You Can Stick With
Even though our prehistoric relatives were not as healthy as fans of the Paleo Diet might have you believe, there is no doubt that reducing processed foods and increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats is a healthy switch. Where the problem lies, however, is in the restrictions required to follow this diet completely.
There’s a reason why 95% of diets (including Paleo) fail before a goal weight is reached. Placing heavy restrictions on what you can and can’t eat almost sets you up to fail. With an “all or nothing” approach to dieting, one slip-up can make you feel like a failure, and may prompt you to abandon the diet plan altogether. The Paleo Diet (and other diets like it) can be very difficult to stick with, especially over the long term. While you are very likely to lose weight while you stick to this diet, the pounds will probably return as soon as you return to your normal eating patterns.
If you aren’t willing to spend the rest of your life eating like a caveman, that’s okay. Making small adjustments in your eating habits that you can stick with is much more likely to give you the results you want than going all in on a very restrictive diet that doesn’t last a month. If you’re not sure where to start, consult your chiropractor. He or she can help you build a diet plan that is designed with your specific goals in mind and suited to your lifestyle, giving you a much higher chance of success.
So what’s the bottom line? The Paleo diet is not a bad idea, but its high levels of restriction make it extremely difficult for most people to stick with. For many dieters, it is simply not a realistic long-term option.
You probably don’t need much more evidence—or convincing—that men and women view the world a little bit differently, but it might be worth considering how these differences really impact us in terms of our healthcare—and therefore our overall health and longevity.
As a rule, women are more likely than men to seek out and receive preventive healthcare services. However, when it comes to serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease, men are the ones who are most likely to need hospitalization. The fact that women are more likely to take a proactive approach to healthcare might actually contribute to the fact that men tend to die at a younger age. Although genetics and lifestyle differences play a role in shortening the average male lifespan, the healthcare choices men make may also help determine the length and quality of their lives.
How Women Can Encourage Men to Be More Conscientious About Healthcare
Jokes about some men being willing to remove their own appendix in the garage before visiting a doctor may inspire laughter; but the impact of not getting appropriate healthcare is no laughing matter. Not only do many men skip life-saving preventive healthcare altogether, but some even ignore symptoms of serious illnesses until their condition has become quite severe and more difficult to treat.
Women, on the other hand, tend to understand the importance of preventive healthcare. Screenings for conditions like breast or colon cancer afford the opportunity to detect and treat serious conditions before they advance and require more aggressive care. When the woman in a man’s life explains her concerns and urges him to look after his own health, he may become more willing to visit the doctor.
Health Conditions Men Should Worry About
There are many illnesses that do occur more frequently in women than in men. However, men are far from immune to serious health conditions, and many of these are far too dangerous to ignore. That’s why doctors recommend a range of health screenings for men, including:
- Prostate Cancer
- Blood Pressure
- Bone Density
- Vitamin D
- Eye Exam
- Testicular Cancer
In some cases, preventive treatment isn’t about saving your life but rather about preserving or improving its quality. For example, regular chiropractic treatments can help you maintain the health of your musculoskeletal and nervous systems so that you can avoid common problems and remain active.
For some men, understanding the kinds of health risks they face and the value of preventive healthcare is enough motivation for them to get regular screenings and be mindful of potential problems. And while the general tendency is for women to take a more active role in their own healthcare, not every woman does. This means that there will always be those men who take steps to remain healthy and those women who avoid going to the doctor whenever they can. But research and clinical experience both tell us that people of both genders and all ages benefit from a proactive approach to health and healthcare.
Neck pain: it’s a real pain in the neck, isn’t it? Bad jokes aside, neck pain is a very common problem. A 2010 study found that in an average year, as many as one in five American adults experience discomfort in this area of the body. In part, this is because the neck is especially susceptible to stress, strain and injury. Knowing the five most common causes of neck tension can help you stay healthy and pain-free.
The Top Five Causes of Neck Pain
- Overuse of Muscle: Your neck is a remarkably easy part of your body to overwork, especially if you spend long hours sitting at a desk during the day. A poorly designed work area forces your neck to stay in an unnatural position for hours on end, causing unnecessary strain. Over time, this can cause chronic neck pain.
- Injuries: Trauma to the neck muscles can cause pain. One of the most common types of neck trauma chiropractors see is the result of traffic accidents. When your head is suddenly forced in a given direction (as can occur if a car you are sitting in is struck from behind), the following “rebound” motion in the opposition direction (also known as whiplash) injures the tissues in your neck. To help counteract this damage, your neck muscles contract, leaving you feeling stiff and uncomfortable.
- Poor Posture: Do you have perfect posture when reading or watching TV? If you’re like most of us, the answer is probably no. Poor posture might feel comfortable in the short term, but in the long run slouching can cause neck strain and discomfort. If you are obese or have weak abdominal muscles, your neck may bend forward in compensation, causing misalignment and producing pain.
- Diseases: Certain diseases can cause neck discomfort. Degenerative diseases are a particularly common cause of neck pain. Osteoarthritis, a joint disorder that speeds cartilage deterioration, leads to the formation of painful bone spurs. Degenerative disc disease can lead to bulging or herniated discs. Meningitis and some types of cancer can also lead to neck pain, though these conditions are more uncommon.
- Nerve Compression: If the nerves in your neck become compressed, neck pain can follow. Herniated discs and bone spurs are two of the most common causes of nerve compression in the neck. A disorder called spinal stenosis can also lead to narrowed nerve passageways, and therefore painfully trapped nerves.
Treating Neck Pain
Treating chronic neck pain effectively requires understanding the underlying cause of your discomfort. Consult with your chiropractor to find solutions! Depending on the situation, your chiropractor might recommend cervical manipulation, a precise adjustment to the joints in your neck that improves spinal alignment and increases range of motion. Chiropractic care is about more than just manual adjustments, though, and your chiropractor will work with you to identify lifestyle changes that can help you make sure your neck stays pain-free.
Anyone who struggles with being overweight knows that it is more than just a matter of appearance. Being overweight affects the way you feel, how much energy you have, and your overall health. There are several serious health conditions linked to obesity, including heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. The bones and soft tissue that make up the musculoskeletal system are also vulnerable. Joints in particular are compromised when too much body weight places a greater force on them than they’re designed to handle. When the musculoskeletal system is compromised, the body is no longer able to perform as efficiently.
As a result, being overweight can cause an increased risk of musculoskeletal problems such as:
- Joint Failure
- Back Pain
- Lower Limb Pain
- Loss of Mobility
The Impact of Body Weight on Joints
Joint stress is a serious concern for people who suffer from osteoarthritis. The normal wear-and-tear that occurs in the joints diminishes their protective cushioning and leads to pain and loss of range-of-motion and/or mobility. In addition, the pressure caused by excess weight is greater than the actual number of pounds. For example, one pound of excess body weight causes four pounds of stress on knee joints. As a result, people with osteoarthritis of the knee can experience much more severe symptoms just from being a few pounds overweight. On the plus side, losing just a few pounds of weight can have a very positive impact on the condition of your joints.
A Different Perspective for Overweight Patients
People who are obese are not the only ones putting their musculoskeletal system at risk. Any degree of excess body weight will put more stress on the joints and supportive tissues that keep the body in motion. Although being ten pounds overweight may not seem like a big deal, think about the difference in difficulty you have carrying a bag of groceries up the steps or a basket of laundry down the stairs in comparison to walking freely without the load. Only a few pounds can change your posture and biomechanics, making a difference in your ability to go up a step or to walk for a longer distance.
Another way to gain perspective for how a few pounds of body weight can impact your frame is to carry a ten pound weight with you through your normal activities. For people who are obese or highly obese, the amount of excess weight they are carrying might be an amount they are not even able to lift! These pounds are exerting stress on the bones and joints all over your body all the time.
Losing weight is never easy, but it is worth the effort to improve your musculoskeletal health and prevent the pain excess pounds can cause. Talk to your chiropractor about safe, healthy ways to lose weight and see what a difference your efforts can make!
The simple answer to the question posed in this article’s title is “Terrible.” Need a simple example? An estimated $300 billion is wasted every year in the US because patients don’t follow the treatment regimens that have been prescribed for them. Between 20% and 30% of first-time prescriptions are never filled, and over 50% of patients admit to not remembering or not adhering to their doctors’ instructions for how to take the prescriptions they did have filled.
So what causes non-compliance with doctors’ medical advice?
Obviously, part of the problem is poor communication on the part of both doctors and patients. It’s not unusual for healthcare providers to provide only a brief explanation of the treatments they prescribe. And for their part, many patients don’t really understand their doctors’ instructions and are uncomfortable asking questions.
Another part of the problem is inherent in the language used to describe the “old-school” relationship that once existed between doctors and their patients. “Following orders” is a military term, but most patients in this day and age are not in the military, and they don’t believe that their doctors have the right to give them orders. More often, patients regard a doctor’s advice as an expert’s suggestion, which they follow for as long as they’re experiencing symptoms that concern them. This can be especially true (and dangerous) when a patient has a chronic health condition that must be actively managed and that may require meaningful lifestyle changes related to diet or exercise.
Improved communication leads to improved compliance.
The more clearly doctors communicate the reasons for adhering to a treatment regimen, the more likely patients are to actually follow their advice. Doctors should take note of patients who seem depressed, for example, because statistically they will be the most likely to ignore or forget treatment advice.
But there are also things patients can and should be doing to improve their own healthcare outcomes. If you don’t understand your condition, don’t believe your treatment is working or are experiencing side effects, always tell your doctor. It’s never a good idea to simply discontinue treatment without having that conversation. Remember—you are ultimately responsible for your own healthcare. Whether you’d like a second (or third) opinion about your diagnosis or are interested in alternative treatment options, it’s important for you to communicate candidly!
As chiropractic physicians, we understand just how important good communication is in building a productive relationship with our patients. We want to be your partners in good health, and that means listening carefully and answering questions as directly and completely as possible!