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Balancing Spring Challenges
As the winter months come to a close and warmer spring weather appears, patients may begin to present with new challenging pattern presentations.
News in Brief
ACA Adopts New Governance Model; ACA 2017 Awards; CCA Helps Calif. DCs "Share the Love"; $1 Million to Help Advance the Profession; D'Youville Raises the Bar on Anatomy Education; ErRatum.
Women's Hormones: A Western & Eastern Perspective
Sometimes it may seem that you require a degree in medicine to understand hormones and how they function.
Creating Good Business Buzz
What do patients really think about working with you? Rarely do you hear the whole truth. Those who improve may be candid in their gratitude.
Why I Quit Doing House Calls
My father was a chiropractor who did house calls, so when I became a DC, I figured doing house calls was part of the job. My March article recalled my experience as a small boy, accompanying my dad while he went to patients' homes to treat them.
New Relationships, Old Trauma: AOM & Other Healing Strategies
Being in love is one the most beautiful and enjoyable experiences. Most of us are willing to pay almost any price to have that experience, and still often find it elusive or fleeting. Navigating the ups and downs of loving relationships are often challenging — even for the most psychologically balanced among us.
Clearing Blocks: A Way to Improve Cosmetic Acupuncture
As a Five Element acupuncturist who teaches facial acupuncture classes nationally, I was surprised to learn that one of the basic principles I was taught in school is unfamiliar to most acupuncturists.
Raditation & Your Smartphone: Is it Worth the Risk?
If radial arteries could talk (and in my experience they can to some extent), they would say, "Step away from the smartphone." At least that is the message I am receiving loud and clear as I feel the pulses of many patients.
Eczema & Acupuncture: A Sound Solution (Part 1)
Eczema affects approximately 3.5 percent of the global population and is one of the most common skin complaints seen by dermatologists.
Universal Design: Principles & Practice
In many respects, universal design serves as the core of ergonomics. It's also a good tool to use when designing a return-to-work program for injured and/or ill patients. Let's take a closer look at universal design and why it should matter to you and your patients.
Give Yourself the Digital Advantage
When you see this article in the print version of this issue and swear you read it already, don't be alarmed: you probably did. That's because by that time, the May issue will have been available online in digital format for three weeks.
A Major Role in Back Pain: The Multifidus
Back pain affects roughly 80 percent of the population at one time or another and is one of the leading causes of doctor visits.
Taking the Chiropractic Message to the Press
"There is no better place on earth to have a news event," the National Press Club boasts, and it's easy to understand why: Every year, the 108-year-old Washington, D.C.-based organization hosts countless press conferences on the hottest topics impacting America and often the world.
A Daily Strategy for Heavy-Metal Detox
In modern society, we are constantly exposed to heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury. These heavy metals have no essential biochemical roles in our body, and conversely, can cause us a great deal of harm if they build up to toxic levels.
The Visual Error Scoring System: A Concussion Tool
Postural stability and oculomotor function are the most easily recognized physical indicators of neurologic motor dysfunction associated with concussions.
Is It Time to Rethink Mental Illness? (Pt. 1)
Invariably, patients will ask their chiropractor about depression or various mental illnesses. Some practitioners will reflexively offer a cervical adjustment, suggest St. John's wort or contemplate a referral to a specialist.
An Integrated Approach to Chronic Pain
Findings from a unique Medicaid pilot project in Rhode Island involving high-use Medicaid recipients from two health plans were recently presented to the state's Department of Health, demonstrating stellar outcomes with regard to medication use, ER visits, health care costs and patient satisfaction.
Is the New Medicare Reporting Exemption Right for You?
What you've heard is not a rumor – there will be exemptions for providers of Medicare patients, with no penalties assessed for offices that do not do Quality Payment Program (EHR, PQRS, MACRA and MIPS) reporting.
Bill With Confidence: Learn What to Collect
Q: I am trying to understand what I may collect from my patient when there is insurance. Do I have to accept the amount allowed by the plan or may I collect up to my billed amount? Please note, I am not a member of any insurance plan.
May, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 05
The Pinched Nerve Conundrum
By Erik Dalton, PhD
For decades, manual therapists, biomedical researchers and neuroscientists have battled over the conceptual ideology of pinched nerves. One group holds the belief that spinal misalignments cause or contribute to disease by choking "nerve energy" to body tissues.Others generally agree that the human body probably does possess some sort of universal energy system, but quickly point out that nerves do not appear as conductors of this "life-force" energy. To allow the reader to grasp both sides of this very important issue, this article will provide an overview of current theories that spur the controversy. Following an initial review of the various nerve impingement theories, let us review the two most pressing, yet basic, questions:
One age-old premise supporting the pinched nerve theory follows this logic: If a spinal segment is not in its normal position, nerve pathways between the vertebrae (intravertebral foramina) will partially close resulting in nerve impingement. As the nerve root undergoes compression, soft tissues and organs supplied by the pinched nerve suffer from decreased nerve energy flow to the affected body parts. Thus, according to this theory, alterations in joint structure and function result not only in pain but an increased susceptibility to disease from spinal obstructions impinging on these nerves.
Detractors counter that nerves do not emit a flow of energy. Since nerves are gland cells, their primary function is to produce and release a hormone that causes muscle cell inhibition or contraction. Basically, that is all they do - no more, no less; therefore, these supporters believe that nerves do not actually conduct electricity or any other form of energy.
When a nerve cell undergoes its function of hormonal secretion, changes occur in its outer cell membrane allowing electrically charged ions to move in and out of the cell in a step-by-step fashion along the full extent of the nerve. This is often referred to as "conducting an impulse" or "firing." A spinal nerve as it exits the intervertebral foraminal opening is actually a thin tube of connective tissue containing extensions of millions of nerve cells. These extensions are axons or "fibers." The latter term appears misleading for it connotes a certain firmness similar to fine electrical wires. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.
Axons are delicate, flimsy structures. Since they consist of elongated or drawn out parts of cells, nourishment is needed along with the cells that make up their sheaths. Vital nutrients are supplied by blood vessels embedded in what is termed a "visible-level nerve." If acute nerve compression does not directly kill the axons, they may die from compressive forces blocking blood flow within the vessels of the nerve. Nerve occlusion prevents axoplasmic flow of nutrients to be properly transported up and down the length of the nerve.
Another Snapshot of Pinched Nerves
The nerve root itself has been dismissed by most researchers as a pain-sensitive structure, although most clinicians do agree that nerve compression from herniated discs, spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis can cause radiculopathies such as sciatica. Acute compression of a normal healthy nerve may lead to paresthesias, motor loss, sensory deficits and reflex abnormalities, but pain is absent. However, if an inflamed nerve suffering intraneural edema is compressed, pain is present. This "silent nerve root compression syndrome" hypothesizes that time is required for functional alterations, such as nerve tethering, to cause mechanical nerve fiber deformation and resulting pain.
Compression of an inflamed nerve anywhere along its extent can cause it to secrete its specific hormone. Pressure on an inflamed sensory nerve cell can cause the brain to experience pain (nociception). If an obstruction compresses a motor nerve cell, the hormone secretion can cause a muscle cell to contract (protective muscle spasm). When motor nerve cells to a skeletal muscle die from complete occlusion, the muscle becomes paralyzed as observed in extreme cases of sciatica and thoracic outlet syndrome. One of the first signs of complete nerve occlusion is muscle atrophy followed by a loss of normal neurological reflexes.
Nociceptive ... or Pinched Nerve Pain?
Over the past decade, researchers working with magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) have demonstrated that no matter how much a normally functioning spine is compressed or twisted, there is ample room in the intervertebral foramina for free movement of the nerve. It is postulated that in a healthy spine, nerve root compression shouldn't exist even with all the intervertebral discs removed. Still, another viewpoint bears consideration.
While conditions such as intraneural edema and ischemia from prolonged nerve-root abuse certainly causes pain in a certain percentage of the population, it is also possible much of the reported pain may be due to sensory receptor overload from postural imbalances. For example, recall what happens when the typical client injures their back. As the spine is subjected to sudden asymmetrical loading, the major stress focuses at the capsule of the articular facets as the joint is moved beyond its acceptable range of motion (physiologic barrier).
Sprained capsules and ligaments cause joint mechanoreceptor hyperexcitability and protective muscle guarding. Muscles aren't designed to be restraining tissues even though the deepest transversospinalis muscles are often awarded that task. As deep intrinsic muscles are subjected to abnormal sustained loading, nociceptive stimuli warn the brain of the possibility of tissue damage.
When nociceptors fire in response to actual tissue damage from macro- or microtrauma during routine daily activities, they quickly become major myofascial and spinal pain generators. Through a process called sensitization, an aberrant hard-wiring pattern is "burned" into the central nervous system (CNS). Long-term CNS agitation from angry nociceptors causes the brain to twist and torque the body in an effort to avoid pain.
Understanding and Treating the Dysfunction
As discussed earlier, the joint receptor concepts attempt to override the idea that pain is primarily a consequence of "pinched nerves" that could ultimately be freed by removing the bony or muscular obstruction. Many neurophysiologists now believe that restoration of proper postural alignment and range of motion successfully reduces pain by stimulating mechanoreceptors in fibrous joint capsules, spinal ligaments and transversospinalis muscles. To achieve a noticeable reduction of increased excitability in the neuronal pool, the pain-generating stimulus must be interrupted until the memory burned into the nerve cells has been completely "forgotten." For many chronic pain cases, a "serial-type" deep tissue therapy works best where clients are seen twice weekly until hyperexcited receptors feeding the CNS are quieted.
Although spinal nerves travel through small intervertebral foramen openings, rarely does a bone-on-nerve dysfunction occur. Significant facet hypertrophy, disc collapse or intraneural edema must accompany the vertebral misalignment before the client experiences pain. While commonly associated with the spine, pinched nerve compressive lesions are actually rare.
What has made the "pinched nerve theory" so popular is that therapists viewing anatomy texts or cadavers can easily visualize how spinal nerves could become entrapped as they make their way through the bony little holes between vertebrae. Regrettably, nociceptors and mechanoreceptors cannot be seen.
For most of mankind, it is far easier to believe something we can see versus something invisible to the naked eye. Despite this human tendency, massage therapists must understand that spinal joints and muscles have massive nociceptive innervation that is profoundly affected by sustained compressional loading from tension, trauma and poor posture. While not clearly apparent, sensory receptors are the primary reason for client visits.
Click here for previous articles by Erik Dalton, PhD.
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