Sciatica & Whiplash – The Head to Toe Connection
Have you ever had to cancel your plans because you recently “threw your back out”? Do you know someone who struggles to even get out of bed some days because of how bad their lower back pain is?
Some of you may have even fallen to your knees at one point due to the electric pain that is sent down the legs and into the feet.
Did you know that low back pain is one of the most frequent activity-limiting complaints in young & middle aged individuals AND one of the most common reasons workers are forced to take sick leave, according to a three year study in the Pain Research and Treatment Journal?
Sciatica is one of the more severe types of lower back pain. The medical terminology for this condition is called lumbar radiculopathy and is described as a pinched, irritated, compressed, or inflamed nerve in the lower spine. The lower part of the spine is also known as the lumbar vertebrae. Located between the five bones (L1-L5) in your lower back are the nerves that exit and control much of your lower limb functions. Among these nerves is the sciatic nerve – a bundle of nerve fibers that supplies the muscles of the back of the legs like the inner thigh, hamstrings, calves, and foot. It is due to this wide range of tissues in your lower body controlled by the sciatic nerve that people diagnosed with sciatica often have varying degrees of pain that start in their lower back and shoot down into their hip, leg, and even to the bottom of the feet.
Parts of the sciatic nerve also supplies vital organs in the body like the bowel, bladder, and reproductive organs. In the most severe cases of sciatic nerve trauma, a diagnosis called caude equine syndrome may be present where the lower fibers extending from the sciatic nerve and lower spinal cord have been injured or compressed. This may lead to loss of bowel or bladder control and complete weakness in the legs. If these symptoms are present, this is an indication of an emergency, and should be treated with urgent care and potentially a surgical consult.
While sciatica may be caused by several factors such as disc herniation, lower back trauma, obesity, and tight deep glute muscles, another reason for sciatic-like pain may be due to a chronic injury in the neck.
Many of our patients in Colorado have had injuries in their past life due to skiing accidents, motor vehicle collisions, working slips and falls, and sport trauma. These injuries often involve a whiplash trauma to the neck. While that whiplash 10 years ago may have just felt like neck soreness for a week or two after the accident, that accident often results in a foundational shift in the spine that many times is left undetected for years after the accident.
When a whiplash occurs, the head and neck is thrown forward and back or side to side faster than the structures and tissues in the neck can respond. Because the human head weighs anywhere between 8-14lbs and sits on top of the smallest bone in the spine known as the ATLAS which weighs about 2oz, this creates a very vulnerable and fragile situation at the top of the neck when it comes to whiplash. That whiplash that may have happened 10 years ago while on a ski trip often results in a structural displacement in the alignment of the skull and top bones in the spine/neck. This displacement can create a range of mild to severe neurological tension on the spinal cord itself as the ligaments that anchor the cord to those upper bones become taut and tense. The misalignment of these structures and the strain it puts on the nervous system creates an electrical interference between the brain and rest of the body. This is known as a foundational shift.
Remember, even though the sciatic nerve is technically classified as those lower nerve bundles that exit the lumbar spine, the anatomical reality is that those nerve bundles still come from the central spinal cord, and the spinal tracts carrying the information from the brain to those lower nerves still travel through and originate at the top of the neck. The junction between the skull and spine is where the brain becomes every nerve for every part of the body.
Does anyone remember Christopher Reeve? You know, the legendary actor who starred as Superman in films during the 80s and 90s. He suffered such a severe trauma to his neck that the subsequent neurological injury left him completely paralyzed from the shoulders down. Christopher Reeve lost complete function of his legs and lower body due to a trauma to his neck, not his low back. While the point is not that Balance Chiropractic helps those with injuries as severe as Reeve had (although in some instances it might after being cleared in the ER for life-threatening conditions), the point is that so commonly people suffer many bouts of smaller and less severe traumas and injuries to their upper neck throughout their life and never realize the effect it may have on their entire nervous system.
Balance Chiropractic specializes in a gentle and measureable unconventional form of chiropractic care known as NUCCA. Using state-of-the-art digital imaging & digital foundational analysis, our goal is to correct the foundational shift that likely occurred 10+ years ago in that whiplash accident in order to reduce the stress on the nerve system and restore optimal communication between the brain and lower body again. This approach is painless, requiring absolutely no twisting or cracking of any part of the spine. It is through this form of FOUNDATIONAL CORRECTION that Balance Chiropractic has helped many in Colorado Springs find relief from sciatica when other forms of care that focused on the lower back have failed.