One of the most common reasons people may consult an osteopath is back pain. This condition affects over 80% of the population at some stage of their lives and is one of the leading causes of absence from work. The pain may vary from a niggling ache to sharp, debilitating pain that can affect the whole spine, and sometimes radiates to other areas of the body such as the buttocks or limbs. It is critical that your osteopath diagnoses the source of your discomfort before any treatment is carried out. Common mechanical causes of back pain make up the vast proportion of the cases that Osteopaths see and these include bad posture, poor seating or ergonomics, unsupportive beds and pillows, stress (both physical and mental), sedentary lifestyles, incorrect lifting, trauma, sports injuries, pregnancy and wear and tear. So what can be done? At Malmesbury Osteopathy the aim is to provide a safe and effective treatment for your back pain using evidence-based methods of relieving pain and rehabilitating the spine. A treatment plan will be carefully constructed to give long-term solutions and remove any barriers to recovery so that your body can heal itself. Specific techniques, exercises and advice are tailored to each individual. The treatment plan will depend on the nature of your pain, the cause of the symptoms and your general lifestyle to restore functional movement and posture and allow your body to heal itself more effectively. You should not have to put up with long-term back ache; there is often a relatively simple underlying cause that may be maintaining it.
‘Sciatica’ is a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis as such. It typically refers to pain caused by irritation of nerve roots that exit the lower lumbar spine and sacrum, that form the large sciatic nerve that supplies and runs down the back of your leg. Those who suffer with sciatica will sometimes say that the pain came on suddenly, “like a bolt of lightning down the back of the leg”. Others describe it as an excruciating “toothache” in their legs. Either way, sciatica can be a very painful experience and Osteopaths are able to help in most cases. Early sciatic pain can sometimes be so mild it can be ignored but this is the stage when it may be helpful to see your Osteopath, as the earlier it is diagnosed and treated the better the outcome. Symptoms may vary in severity, but generally people will describe pain down the back of the legs which can occasionally be felt in the ankles, feet and toes. Although the cause of the symptoms may originate from the lumbar spine or sacrum, in some cases low back pain is not present, or the leg pain is worse than the back pain. A prolapsed disc (‘slipped disc’) may cause sciatica but there are other conditions, such as the spinal wear and tear or osteo-arthritis for example that can cause irritation of the sciatic nerve roots. Sciatic symptoms may include numbness or tingling in one or both legs, occasional shooting pains, and tenderness or tightness in surrounding muscles.
If you consider that the average adult head weighs about the same as a bowling ball, it is understandable that poor posture can cause your head to deviate from its most comfortable position or posture. Some dysfunctional postures can significantly change the distribution of weight on the neck and shoulders, potentially leading to pain in the form of local muscle or joint tension, arm pain and often headaches spreading from the neck and base of the cranium to the forehead. Road traffic accidents and falls are a common cause of trauma to the neck. Substantial tissue damage can be caused by whiplash injuries which can cause a wide range of symptoms such as neck pain, dizziness, blurred vision, reduced ability to turn and flex the neck, headaches, low back pain, pins and needles, and numbness or muscle spasms in the shoulders, arms and hands. The key to success for this type of condition is going to your Osteopath as soon as you can after the traumatic event. You will have a thorough investigation of your neck and related areas to determine where tissues have been damaged followed by a discussion with you as to the best way forward for treatment.
Arthritic Pain and Rheumatism
Patients are sometimes told that they should expect a certain amount of pain for their age, or that it’s normal to have reduced movement. Many of these patients will present to an Osteopath as a ‘last resort’ having been told that nothing can be done and they must continue to live with pain. Osteopathic treatment may enable a more active life with reduced pain and suffering. Wear and tear seen on X-rays is not always the underlying cause of your pain and advanced arthritis can be managed effectively. You don’t have to put up with constant pain. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, and it is reported that over 50% of people over the age of 65 suffer pain and disability as a result. This type of arthritis begins years before any bone changes are found on X-ray and is primarily the “wear and tear” associated with everyday life. In many cases, Osteopaths can help you to accommodate to this change in structure, perhaps by freeing up related joints so that they share more of the load, or even reducing the tensions in the muscles of the area to reduce the inflammation and pain. Treatment of this nature has proven to be immensely successful. There are also lots of postural exercises and day to day advice that can help you to help yourself. If you start experiencing aches and pains in your joints, and the pain has come on over a matter of days, weeks or a few months (and in some cases years), please don’t just resign yourself to it. It could be something far simpler to deal with.
Shoulder, arm and hand pain
Occasionally the cause of shoulder, arm or hand pain is not always as clear cut as it may appear; it can be far more complicated. The anatomy of your shoulder, being a shallow, mobile ball and socket joint with numerous capsule layers and muscles, makes it vulnerable to injury, but as with leg pain, the most important thing to do is to determine what is causing it. Osteopaths have been trained to accurately diagnose the problem and treat accordingly. Whatever is causing the pain (frozen shoulder, repetitive strain injury, tennis/golfers elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, sports injuries, awkward sleeping positions, or your work station); your osteopath will explain the best course of action.
Some cases of arm pain are related to a large nerve outlet starting in your neck called the brachial plexus. The nerves from the neck or cervical spine that supply your shoulders and arms all meet in the brachial plexus before they branch off. A compressed or pinched nerve can cause pain, tingling in the fingers, and unpleasant feelings of heat, cold and swelling. Osteopaths aim to relieve the compressed nerve by initially establishing where it impinged and releasing the structures surrounding it. This may involve manipulations to the neck, ribs or upper back, massage techniques and acupuncture to reduce muscle tension and increase blood supply and help to restore appropriate function to these vital nerves.
Muscle tension and spasm
Muscle tension is extremely common; it can vary from a sense of tightness to agonizing pain which is occasionally disproportionate to the cause. Understanding the source of the tension is vital in providing long term relief. The muscle’s role is to move your joints, therefore if a joint is not moving well, the muscle will have to work harder to achieve the same result, and conversely if the muscle is tight then the joint itself will struggle to move freely. In some cases, a joint lock or inflammation due to injury for example will cause muscle spasm; a sudden, severe tightening of a muscle or a group of muscles. Osteopaths diagnose and treat these combined areas of tension and give you the tools for effective posture and exercise to help maintain your restored mobility.