Treat the “Cause” of Your Problem, Not the “Symptoms”

In a chiropractic clinic, we see people with all sorts of problems. A typical day includes seeing patients who have problems with one or more joints, nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons and, bursae. The number of different ways people have discovered to injure themselves is quite mind-boggling.


However, the thing that still surprises me the most is that many of the new patients entering our office are only looking for relief of their pain or other symptoms. Especially if the pain is interfering with whatever it is they like to do the most (such as golfing). A majority of them have tried the typically prescribed drugs (medications such as anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, pain-killers and even valium) without any long-term relief. They have still not realized that if the treatment or medication they were given previously only addressed the “symptoms” of the problem (inflammation, pain, muscle spasm). It was no wonder that these symptoms simply returned once the treatment or medication was discontinued. Frustrated, these new patients enter my office hoping that I will have a simple solution that will allow them to return to their pain-free lifestyle as soon as possible. It is at this point that i have to make them realize that they have to treat the “cause” of your problem, not the “symptoms”.


Often to their disappointment, I have to inform them that rarely is there a “quick-fix” for any problem. If that doesn’t upset them, they usually are once I tell them that it is more important to identify and treat the actual cause of their problem than it is to temporarily relieve the pain or symptoms. That is the goal in our office. Instead of trying to find a new and quick way of eliminating their pain, we find out what needs to be treated in order to correct the actual problem. As well, we need to identify what needs to be changed in their lifestyle to prevent the problem from coming back. I will try to give you a couple of examples:


1) You have headaches. Tylenol relieves them but they keep coming back. Instead of wondering what pill to try next, consider the following:

-Have you tried to identify exactly what is causing the headaches or have just been trying to eliminate the pain?

-Is your poor posture putting physical stress on your neck joints and muscles, causing headaches?

-How long do you spend sitting in front of a computer or television each day? Is your television or computer monitor positioned so that you do not have to move your head left or right, up or down?

-Are you taking any other medications that may cause headaches as a side effect? Ask your pharmacist.

-Have you experienced any trauma (car accident or fall) to your neck that may now be causing irritation of the nerves in your neck? This will result in spasm of the neck muscles and lead to tension headaches.

-Do you do any stretching or strengthening exercises for your neck? If your answer is no, you should almost expect the joints and muscles to eventually become stiff and tight, eventually causing headaches.

-How much emotional stress are you experiencing at home or work? Higher levels of this will definitely cause headaches.


2) You have chronic bouts of low back pain. The painkiller and muscle relaxer medications you were prescribed help only as long as you continue to take them. As well, they cause stomach upset and constipation. Does this sound like you? What are your answers to the following questions?

-Have you figured out what exactly is wrong with your back instead of just trying to eliminate the symptoms?

-Do you have poor muscle flexibility and/or joint mobility in your back, hips, or legs that will make you prone to low back injuries?

-Are you putting extra pressure on your low back every day by being overweight? Are you exercising enough each day to burn more calories than you eat in order to lose that extra weight?

-How much regular stretching and strengthening do you do for your back muscles?

-Do you have problems with the arches in your feet that may have secondary effects on your low back?


If you have headaches or chronic low back pain, it is likely you may be slightly disappointed with your own answers to the above questions. If that is your case, see a chiropractor so he or she can identify your actual problem and become your own personal coach on how to prevent it from returning. Solutions to many of these questions have been discussed in other articles located on this website. Feel free to browse them.


What Does a Chiropractor Do For Sciatica?

Like it or not, 80% of you will experience an acute bout of low back pain at least once in your life. Of those who get this back pain, many will also experience a mild to severe pain and/or numbness, called “sciatica”, which often travels down one of your legs and potentially as far as your toes. To really understand what sciatica is and how it occurs, you need to first understand a little about the nerves exiting between the vertebrae of the spine. After this is explained, I will clarify “what does a chiropractor do for sciatica?”.

 The term “sciatica” comes from the name of the largest nerve in the entire body – the “sciatic nerve”. The low back, called the lumbar spine, consists of five vertebrae. Between each of these vertebrae, a nerve exits from the spinal cord. These nerves eventually combine to form one large nerve, called the sciatic nerve. It is responsible for controlling the muscles in the leg. It also tells the brain when the leg is being touched or if it has been injured and is in pain. Therefore, the sciatic nerve carries messages and instructions from the spinal cord to the entire leg and vice versa.


If one of the nerves of the spine that make up the sciatic nerve, or the sciatic nerve itself, is being irritated or pinched even slightly, problems arise. The messages and instructions passing to and from the leg will be weakened or altered. This may result in your leg, ankle or toes not being able to move with their normal strength, the skin possibly feeling numb when touched, or even mild to severe pain at specific areas of the leg.


So, what does sciatica have to do with all this? Normally, the messages that travel back and forth between the brain and the leg are very calm and quiet. If there is a pinching or irritation of the nerves at the spine, these messages can become either highly amplified or weakened. In the case of sciatica, the calm and quiet messages that travel from the leg to the spine and brain become increased to that of a roar. This amplified message travels up the spinal cord to the brain. The brain assumes that this roar of a message is legitimate and that the leg is injured. This is why you feel mild to severe pain in your leg when there is really nothing wrong with it. Therefore, sciatica is really just mild to severe pain or numbness felt in the leg when one or more of the nerves in the low back are being irritated or pinched.


It is not difficult to determine if a person is experiencing sciatica or not (read my article: What is Sciatica?). The real challenge for a chiropractor is determining where the pinching or irritation of the nerve is occurring. Only then can the actual cause of the sciatica be treated. This is something that chiropractors do in their office all day every day. In fact, no other health care practitioner cares for more patients with low back pain than chiropractors.


In regards to treatment of sciatica in my office, the first goal is to identify where exactly the nerve is being irritated or pinched. This pinching or irritation can happen as the nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve pass by any inflamed “facet” joints that are between the vertebrae. As well, a herniated disk or arthritic changes in the joints of the spine can both directly pinch or irritate these nerves. Another joint problem that can cause sciatica is the “sacroiliac joint”. There is one of these joints at each side of the back of your pelvis. My patients often mistakenly call these joints their hip joint. The hip joint is further to the outside of each side of the pelvis.


The most common treatment that I use for most of the problems listed above is manipulation of the sacroiliac or facet joints, in conjunction with loosening the muscles, and some specific muscle stretches. As well, I teach my patients other general low back stretches and exercises. When the patient is ready, a full core strengthening exercise program is available. This program uses a piece of equipment called a “TRX”. Finally, I also have a “spinal decompression” or traction table which provides a negative pressure to the disks, muscles, and ligaments of the spine in order to take pressure off of any affected nerves. This treatment is also commonly used to accelerate the healing and recovery from an acute herniated disk.

Cutting Firewood Can Cause Back Pain

Over the past few years, people have been turning to other forms of fuel, such as wood, for heating their homes. But, in order to burn wood, one must go out and collect it. Surprisingly, this activity has caused a recent influx of low back injuries into my office. Read below to find out how cutting firewood can cause back pain.…..

Collecting firewood allows many a man to fulfill their primal urges of hunting and gathering. Like a caveman sharpening his spear, he sharpens his weapons (axe, chainsaw). This pre-hunt ritual occurs while the next generation of hunters, his son, watches in awe. After pleading ignorance about requiring a permit from the Ministry of Forests, he heads out looking for that perfect tree. Once found, the tree is butchered into pieces like a moose that was hunted and cut into quarters. While still under a natural adrenalin rush from the hunt, coupled with the need to demonstrate his Hercules-like strength to his son, he feels invincible. He proceeds to repetitively lift the massive pieces into his pick-up truck. The hunt proceeds just as planned, until….


I will use an example of a man who practically crawled into my office this month after attempting to collect some firewood. Just as he picked up the last piece, he felt a sharp pain in his lower back. It then shot from his back to his right hip and groin. While dropping to his hands and knees, the piece of wood he was holding fell and landed heavily on his big toe. Once the pain in the toe subsided, the pain from his right hip and groin began to spread into his right testicle and lower leg. Not only was his ability to hunt and gather suddenly disappearing before his eyes, but now his manlihood was also in jeopardy. Covered in sawdust and giving off a distinct odor of chainsaw oil with a hint of freshly cut pine, he crept into my office one hour later. He had sprained the joints in his lower back. The resulting inflammation then irritated the nerves that exit his spine and combine together to form the sciatic nerve. With chiropractic treatment and modifying his activities, he was back to normal within a week or two.


To prevent the rest of you men from having your hunting/gathering abilities decimated, as well as having your manlihood tested, I will review a few “back safety” tips when collecting firewood. First, find a tree that is accessible by your truck so that you will not have to carry the pieces over uneven ground. Second, cut the tree into shorter pieces. They will be lighter to lift and easier to split. When lifting each piece, keep your lower back straight and lift with your legs. Third, when tossing the pieces into the truck, do not twist your back. Fourth, do not try to collect the entire winter’s supply in one weekend. If you are like the average person, this is not an activity your body is used to doing. Last but not least, do not use an axe that is too heavy. You will not be able to control it properly that one time when your aim is a little off.




Exercises for Sciatic Pain from Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Have you ever had mild or even severe low back pain that was actually stemming from a spot a few inches to the left or right of the bottom of your spine? Did it refer pain and/or numbness down your leg, possibly even into your ankle and foot? If you can answer yes to these questions, you likely had an acute inflammation of the “sacroiliac joint”, which was irritating your “sciatic” nerve and creating your Sciatic pain.


Inflammation of the sacroiliac joint is believed to be a caused by a spraining of the joint during a fall or a heavy lift. A chronic stiffness or disruption in the normal movement of the joint can also lead to it becoming acutely inflamed with even the simplest of movements. Regardless of how the sacroiliac joint becomes inflamed, a portion of the sciatic nerve runs directly in front of it. As a result, the sciatic nerve can become irritated, rather than physically pinched.


Chiropractors are highly trained to locate, diagnose, and correct problems with the sacroiliac joints. By doing adjustments or manipulation of these joints, their normal mobility is restored. This stops the inflammatory process and allows the joint to heal completely and properly, without the use of drugs or steroid injections.


If you have even a mild discomfort at the sacroiliac joint region, have your chiropractor examine you right away. If diagnosed and treated early, you can completely avoid the acute pain and associated sciatic referred pain. If you already have the pain, see your chiropractor immediately.


To help prevent sacroiliac joint dysfunction from happening in the first place, perform the following exercises regularly.

sacroiliac joint knee pull up

Single knee to chest stretch: Pull one knee up to the chest at a time, gently pumping the knee three to four times at the top of the range of motion. Do 10 repetitions for each leg.

sacroiliac joint press up

Press-up: From the prone position, press up on the hands while the pelvis remains in contact with the floor. Keep the lower back and buttocks relaxed for a gentle stretch. Hold the press-up position initially for five seconds, and gradually work up to 30 seconds per repetition. Aim to complete 10 repetitions.

 sacroiliac joint legs side to side

Lumbar rotation—non-weight bearing: Starting by lying on the back with both knees bent, keep the feet flat on the floor while rocking the knees from side to side. The thighs should rub together and the knees will not move very far. The lower spine should remain fairly still. Rock the knees for 30 seconds.

These exercises and others will help to relieve sciatic pain. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call us at Nicola Valley Chiropractic.