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Can Chiropractic Help a Pinched Nerve?

Posted in Neck Pain Disorders on Feb 03, 2020

Can Chiropractic Help a Pinched Nerve?

Can upper cervical chiropractic help a pinched nerve?

“I feel like there’s a pinched nerve in my neck.”

The feeling of a pinched nerve in your neck is exceptionally common. 

You may not know, but 30-50% of people experience a serious episode of neck pain in their lives, often involving a pinched nerve feeling.

At any one time, there may be 400,000 - 2.76 million people in Australia - right now! - experiencing neck pain.

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It is any wonder with so many things that can all contribute towards neck pain: computers, laptops, mobile devices, whiplash injuries, sports injuries, etc. 

So when it comes to the feeling of a pinched nerve in your neck, that is when things stay getting really serious and when you realize that you have to do something about it!

What can cause a pinched nerve feeling?

So what have you done about your neck pain or pinched nerve in the neck feeling?

Neck pain is associated with a higher frequency of depression, headaches, migraines, TMJ disorders, and other neurological conditions such as fibromyalgia.

Strangely, neck pain is NOT associated with greater amounts of degenerative arthritis. In other words, the presence of a disc bulge in many cases may NOT be the actual cause of your pinched nerve sensation.

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How can that even be possible?

It is because unless you have a true-blue pinched nerve in your neck that can be seen clearly on an MRI scan, many causes of “pinched nerves” are not actually the result of a true pinching or even squeezing.

Often a “pinched nerve in the neck” feeling is the result of three things:

 

  1. A muscle strain
  2. A ligament sprain
  3. Nerve tension

 

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What all these things have in common is that they are all include sharp, stabbing pain that prevents yours from moving your head, especially turning it side-to-side.

It is the “sharp” sensation that most people attribute to a pinched nerve.

However, when a nerve is truly being pinched, the sensation also includes a shooting pain that either zings into your fingers or your head. Literally, you could trace the sensation from a  nerve chart in a textbook.

It’s like hitting your funny bone on your elbow. That is what it feels like to pinch a nerve. (It is also possible to have muscle wasting or weakness also if a nerve if truly pinched).

But what does it mean if you have the pinched nerve sensation but none of the other stuff?

Well then, it means that you may actually have something else going on that mimics a pinched nerve.

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And if so, it means that one of the most important things that you can do is to make sure that you are taking better care of your neck, which includes making sure that your head and neck and properly aligned.  

How can a neck sprain cause pinched nerve pain?

There are four layers of muscles in your neck that control the position of the bones in your neck, and also allow you to move your head, neck, and shoulders. 

Close your eyes, and imagine you have a whole bunch of elastic rubber bands between your fingers.

In addition, you have an equally great number of ligaments that help to hold things in place so that the muscles don’t move too much.

Imagine that in addition to the rubber bands, you also have a bunch of inelastic stringers between your fingers.

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Now I want you to imagine that you slowly start to stretch your hands and your fingers apart. You can FEEL the tension increasing until suddenly “snap” one of the pieces breaks.

 

  • If it is a rubber band or muscle fiber - even just a single one - we call that a strain.
  • If it is a string or ligament fiber, - even just a single one - we call that a sprain.

 

So if there is TOO MUCH TENSION through the muscles and ligaments in your neck, all it takes is for a few of the fibers to go ping (!) and it triggers an immediate neurological response:

 

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  1. The local or damaged fibers spark an inflammatory response, which irritates pain nerve receptors
  2. Your brain causes your undamaged muscles to go into lockdown mode to prevent you from accidentally or intentionally moving your head in any way that could cause greater injury
  3. Your muscles guard or “splint” until the injury is able to heal.

Here’s the interesting thing: the sensation that people experience when this happens is that of a pin-point sharp pinch, which they commonly describe as a “pinched nerve” feeling.

So a pinched nerve feeling is what happens when you tweak the muscles and/or ligaments in your neck.

It’s sharp. It’s painful to move your head. It can even radiate down into your shoulders and even take your breath away it hurts so much.

IF this is the reason for a pinched nerve feeling, what it means is that the injury now needs three things to heal:

 

  1.  Time. The most common, uncomplicated “pinched nerve” injuries usually resolve within a week assuming that you get the right treatment. (And if not, that is a sure-fire sign that there is something else going on!)
  2. The Right Treatment. Things don’t just happen in your body for no reason. Fortunately, your body has a built-in program called “Self Healing.” In other words, if you strain your neck a bit, it should be able to heal well on its own. However, if the pain is severe, recurrent, or does not resolve within a very short period of time, it means that you will likely need treatment … because something is preventing your body from being able to repair itself the way that it is meant to!
  3. The Right LONG Term Treatment. IF your “pinched nerve” feeling is due to the muscles or ligaments being stretched to the point of physical damage, it is important to identify the CAUSE of the problem. WHAT IS THE SOURCE OF THE TENSION THAT CAUSES THE THINGS TO SPRAIN IN THE FIRST PLACE?  

 

Because even if the pinched nerve feeling from this time goes away, if the CAUSE OF THE TENSION is allowed to stay then, then it is very likely that you will experience the same problem AGAIN at some point in the future.

So when it comes to the cause of the tension, one of the most important places to look is actually in the upper part of your neck.

How can the upper neck lead to tension and a pinched nerve feeling?

The top bone in your neck is called your atlas or C1 vertebra. It is what allows you to nod your head. It is also what allows you to turn your head sideways, but pivoting atop the C2 or axis vertebra in your neck.

Your atlas and axis are what provide the majority of movement in your neck.

There are no other bones in your entire spine constructed like them!

They are also unique in how they physically attach onto the top of your spinal cord as a protective mechanism. 

However, if you ever suffer an injury that affects the alignment of either the atlas or the axis - even if it doesn’t cause you pain - it may produce a physical pulling or tension on your spinal cord or nerves.

And it may only be a few millimeters. The total movement of the joints in your neck is usually 10-20mm, so the displacement of even 2mm may represent a 10-20% deviation from normal!

Now, your brain isn’t stupid (and your body isn’t weak). So what will typically happen is that your brain will produce a change in your normal muscle tone, CAUSING CERTAIN MUSCLES THROUGH YOUR NECK AND SHOULDERS TO TIGHTEN IN ORDER TO COMPENSATE.

While this may work as an excellent short-term strategy, in the long-term it may very well be what CREATES THE TENSION ON YOUR MUSCLES AND LIGAMENTS that ultimately created a sudden sprain-strain injury, and thus the “pinched nerve” sensation in your neck or shoulder blades.

How do you know if your atlas is aligned? And how can you fix it if it is related to my pinched nerve?

The unique approach to getting the atlas and axis in your neck properly aligned and moving properly is known as upper cervical care.

Upper cervical care is a special division of chiropractic developed and researched in the USA. It is still relatively rare in Australia with fewer than 0.2% of the profession practicing it.

Upper cervical is based on the premise that it is the upper neck that controls and coordinates the functions of the body because of its unique relationship with the brainstem.

In brief, WHERE YOUR HEAD GOES, YOUR BODY GOES.

Rather than using spinal manipulation, our specific brand of upper cervical known as the Blair technique does not use any spinal manipulation, twisting, cracking or popping. 

The way that the Blair upper cervical procedures works are first with a detailed examination of your history, your muscle tone, and also your nerve function. If we identify a problem with your neck, the next step is an in-depth look at the structure and alignment of your neck using a series of unique, 3D x-rays that are custom-tailored for you.

So I’m sure you realize that this is different from general chiropractic and that by taking a custom approach that we are looking at something special that isn’t done even in hospitals or medical specialist offices!

With this information, we are able to identify the exact directions and degree of misalignment in your neck. The result is that we don’t need to use much force or any cracking in order to reposition the vertebrae.

The procedure is light and easy, using only the amount of force that you would use to feel your pulse.

The purpose of the adjustment is to correct the alignment of the misaligned vertebra in your neck. 

When that happens, we believe that it reduces the tension on your brainstem and spinal nerves.

When that happens, we often find that the muscles down the back of your neck start to let go, reducing the physical tension.

And when that happens, we find that many people experiencing the sensation of a “pinched nerve” experience the relief that they are looking for.

So you see, upper cervical care isn’t a treatment per se for a pinched nerve. It is a natural, drug-free approach to allow your body to do what it is designed to do: heal itself.

Looking for help with pinched nerve pain?

If you are looking for an upper cervical chiropractic doctor to help you if you are experiencing pinched nerve pain, you are in the right place.

Our practice is located in North Lakes to provide atlas-specific care for the greater Brisbane area. So whether you are right next door in Mango Hill, Narangba, Dakabin, Burpengary  Griffin or North Harbour - or if you are just a short trip away in Redcliffe, Sandgate, Aspley, Albany Creek, Chandler, Bulimia, Newstead, Tenneriffe, Indooropilly, we are here to assist you.

Atlas Health is the premier upper cervical chiropractic center in Brisbane, serving clients from across the Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Sunshine Coast communities: and also providing care for many people across Queensland and even interstate.

If you have any specific questions or to book an appointment, we are happy to assist.

You can contact us through the link on this page, or better yet, give us a ring at 07 3188 9329 to schedule an appointment.

We are also happy to offer a 15-minute over the phone consultation at no charge where you can speak with one of our upper cervical chiropractic doctors to discuss your individual condition, ask any questions you may have, and decide if care is right for you.

Simply call us at 07 3188 9329, or click the Contact Us link on this page.

Atlas Health Australia - “A passion and purpose for helping give back people’s quality of lives.”

 

References

Corcoran KL, Bastian LA, Gunderson CG, et al. Association Between Chiropractic Use and Opioid Receipt Among Patients with Spinal Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Pain Med. 2019 Sep 27. pii: pnz219. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnz219. [Epub ahead of print] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31560777

McGowan JR, Suiter L. Cost-Efficiency and Effectiveness of Including Doctors of Chiropractic to Offer Treatment Under Medicaid: A Critical Appraisal of Missouri Inclusion of Chiropractic Under Missouri Medicaid. J Chiropr Humanit. 2019 Dec 10;26:31-52. doi: 10.1016/j.echu.2019.08.004. eCollection 2019 Dec. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31871437

Neck Pain. Work Wellness and Disability Institute. Accessed 13 Jan 2020. https://www.wwdpi.org/ChronicDisease/HealthTopics/MusculoskeletalDisorders/Pages/NeckPain.aspx

Nolet PS, Emary PC, Kristman VL, et al. Exposure to a motor vehicle collision and the risk of future neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PM R. 2019 Apr 25. doi: 10.1002/pmrj.12173. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31020768

Whalen W, Farabaugh RJ, Hawk C, et al. Best-Practice Recommendations for Chiropractic Management of Patients With Neck Pain. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2019 Dec 20. pii: S0161-4754(19)30008-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2019.08.001. [Epub ahead of print] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31870638

 Wong JJ, Shearer HM, Mior S, et al. Are manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture effective for the management of patients with whiplash-associated disorders or neck pain and associated disorders? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the OPTIMa collaboration. Spine J. 2016 Dec;16(12):1598-1630. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.08.024. Epub 2015 Dec 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707074

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