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Back Pain FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions
for Low Back Pain, Neck Pain, Pinched Nerves or Herniated Disc….. 

Q.  My medical doctor told me I had a pinched nerve but that it would heal and there was nothing else that could be done; is this true? 

No, it isn’t true.  If you have a pinched nerve and you don’t go to the chiropractor, you may not get the right treatment.  Your medical doctor may have been right about diagnosing you with a pinched nerve, however if he didn’t refer you to a chiropractor, you may need to go to one on your own.  Unfortunately, most medical doctors aren’t trained to determine whether or not you have a chiropractic problem.  This is why many patients are misled and get the wrong treatment or they end up with spinal damage because of not handling their problems quickly enough. 

Q.  I’ve had back pain for a long time now; my doctors have taken x-rays, CT scans, MRI’s.  I’ve been to top specialists and no one can find what’s wrong with me.  Am I just going to have to live with it? 

Hopefully not.  If you haven’t been to the chiropractor for an evaluation of your back, it’s like not going to the dentist to have a cavity in your tooth evaluated.  It’s important to have your back pain evaluated by your MD so you can rule out pathology (diseases of your organs, prostate problems, cancer, etc.), however starting with your chiropractor (for the safest and least invasive option) is the best thing to do.  Again, unfortunately most medical doctors aren’t trained to determine whether or not you have a chiropractic problem.  If you go to your MD with a back/neck problem first and their tests are negative, there may be good chance a chiropractor can help you.  If you go to your MD and their tests show you have a herniated disc, make an appointment with a Gonstead Chiropractor as soon as possible! 

Q.  My back only bothers me once in a while or only in certain positions; it flares up for about a week a few times a year but it always resolves itself.  Do I still need treatment or should I just ‘ride it out’? 

Your history of back problems prove a chiropractic consultation would definitely be in order.  The more episodes you endure, the more difficult it may be to correct.  When you have a disc problem that ‘goes away’ on its own, it's possible your spine may have compensated to the shifted, misaligned disc to take some of the pressure off of the pinched nerve.  This allows for your symptoms to go away, however the mechanical problem may remain…..leaving you with a weakness in your spine that may re-surface in the future.  Multiple occurrences on the same disc are likely to promote unhealthy/unbalanced scar tissue and degenerative disc disease.  An injured disc usually starts to degenerate shortly after it’s first degree of herniation.  It is extremely important you have your spine corrected by a Gonstead chiropractor as soon as possible to avoid any permanent degeneration. 

Q.  I’ve recently hurt my back/neck and can’t get to the chiropractor immediately; should I put ice or heat on it? 

Ice.  Never put heat on your spine.  Without having your condition diagnosed by a doctor, you don’t know if you’ve injured/herniated a disc or have a pinched nerve or not so you should treat it like you do.  When a disc herniates/bulges, it’s like having a ‘sprained’ joint.  When you sprain your ankle, ligaments are stretched or torn and the joint swells with fluid to protect it from further injury.  Adding heat to the joint causes more fluid/swelling build-up and may make your condition worse.   While adding heat to your spine may calm down muscle spasms and make your back feel a bit ‘looser’, it will ultimately make the swelling of the disc worse.  Heat will make a disc problem worse. 

When you’ve hurt your back (or any joint) the best thing to do is immediately put ice on it.  The sooner you can put ice on it the better.  Ice will counteract/help reduce any swelling that may be building inside or around the joint.  If you’ve hurt your back, start icing the injured area for 30 minutes on and take if off for about an hour.  Continue to cycle this (on and off) for as long as you can, then get to the chiropractor as soon as possible.

Q.  My medical doctor recommended I see a physical therapist for treatment of my back problem (low back, neck pain, pinched nerve or herniated disc).  Will physical therapy fix my back/disc problem? 

Passive physical therapy modalities (like ultrasound, electric stimulation or traction) may temporarily reduce muscle spasms and inflammation and offer some relief.  However they will not correct a misalignment or a herniated disc.  When your spinal vertebrae shift and cause the nucleus of the disc to crack through the annular (rings) layers, the disc will bulge and pinch the nerve.  You cannot exercise, rub or massage this problem better.  Hopefully if your problem isn’t past a certain point, a Gonstead specific chiropractic adjustment will be able to properly re-align your spine.  This will reduce inflammation and correct the misalignment of your disc, thereby fixing the pinched nerve causing your pain.  

Q.  A neurosurgeon diagnosed me with a herniated disc and recommended surgery.  Do I have to get this done to fix my problem? 

No!  If you have not been evaluated by a chiropractor, do this AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!  In fact, if you’ve already been treated by a chiropractor and it didn’t work, go to several others  for other opinions before even considering this option.  With chiropractic care, there is no addiction to pain pills, scar tissue or permanent risks.  Surgeries are permanent.  Surgeries in and around the spinal nerves leave scar tissue around extremely sensitive areas that may leave you with permanent residual symptoms.  You have nothing to lose with trying more chiropractic care.   Studies show results of invasive spinal surgeries are poor.  Please see a short list of studies at the bottom of this page. 

Considering this, try to make spinal surgery a last resort.  Make sure the surgeon who’s recommending surgery is not just trying to sell you an expensive procedure – you’re the one who has to live with the consequences.  If he/she won’t support you with trying/exhausting all other avenues before having surgery, you may be getting sold a dangerous procedure that’s probably not in your best interest. You see, if you exhaust all other avenues, you’ve been to several of the best chiropractors (including Gonstead chiropractic), you’ve tried physical therapy, exercises, massage, acupuncture and anything else natural, you can still have surgery if you have to.

But if you don’t exhaust all your options and jump into having a surgery first…. your options may be very limited on what will work for you later if the surgery doesn’t deliver what it promised.  When you have a surgery, pieces are chopped out or added and the original anatomy is changed.  At the very minimum, scar tissue develops around sensitive nerve tissue.  These issues make post-surgical patients some of the most difficult to treat.  Once you have surgery, chiropractic care may not work for you; this is why you should consider exhausting chiropractic options FIRST.

References:
Torquay, Devon. “Failed Back Surgery Syndrome”. BMJ  2003; 327:985-986 (25 October), doi: 10.1136/bmj.327.7421.985
Porter RW. “Spinal surgery and alleged medical negligence. J R Coll Surg Edinb 1997;42: 376-80.
Resnick D. Failed back surgery syndrome. In: Medcyclopaedia.  (accessed 17 Sep 2003).
Helthoff KB, Burton CV. CT evaluation of the failed back surgery syndrome. Orthop Clin North Am 1985;16: 417-44.

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