What healthy people know about spinal function is essential to living well – Part 2

Last week we talked about the role your spine plays in posture. And how that can be linked to how you feel and how you function.

What happens if your spine is out of position and puts pressure on a nerve or tension into a nerve?

The easiest examples of pressure on a nerve would be sciatica – which is pressure on the sciatic nerve in the leg. When really bad people will scream or cry with pain. Any small movement is excruciating. I’ve seen grown men crawl into the practice on their hands and knees and one even arrive on a stretcher.

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Luckily for most people the pain is just moderate to severe.

Why are fully functioning nerves SO IMPORTANT that the body makes them hurt this much?

Nerves carry messages from our master control centre – the brain – to all our joints and organs, which help with how well your body functions (or doesn’t). You need these messages to get through which is why your body will do all it can to stop you doing more damage to your nerves.

Messages between the body and the brain

Listening to the body and reacting to the environment

We tend to think of nerves mainly as supplying muscles and keeping us moving. However nerves also send lots of information from the body to the brain. For example if you touch something hot, pain signals rush up the nerves telling your brain that you are about to get damaged and the brain sends signals back firing the nerves that go to the muscles in your arm and you move your arm as fast as possible. That all depends on your nerves working properly. If the nerve to your hand wasn’t working properly, the sensory part of the nerve may not notice the heat fast enough, because your hand is already numb. And hence you don’t remove your hand quickly and get burnt.

An example of where this can be a big problem in people who have a neuropathy, such as the one associated with diabetes, because they don’t notice when they tread on something sharp and there is their risk of damage or infection is much higher because of lack of pain signals.

Getting the body to move

Another common problem is when a nerve has been under pressure and not working well for a while people can start to lose strength. If it’s the nerves to the hand then they may struggle to open jars or keep dropping things. If it’s the nerves to the hips they may have problem getting up off the floor, or the nerves to the foot you may have foot drop and are unable to lift your toes up whilst walking.

What to do if you think you have a nerve problem?

First thing to do is get your nervous system assessed by a healthcare professional who is interested in nerves.

Chiropractors also study neurology extensively as part of their degree and are trained to assess function of all the major motor and sensory nerves, including the cranial nerves (on the head and face). Their diagnostic skills will tell them if pathology is likely in which case they will refer you to your GP to get medically investigated, but in most cases this is not necessary and problems can be addressed.

Furthermore, many chiropractors are investing in technology such as Surface EMG, Thermography and Heart Rate Variability, all of which give insights into how well your nervous system is functioning. And are excellent tools for monitoring progress and detecting underlying problems that may not yet be causing symptoms.

Don’t wait until you’re broken….

As a culture, the British are very good at ignoring symptoms. I was brought up to keep going at all costs, and consequently some of my sporting injuries lasted a lot longer that was necessary. If you suspect a problem, get checked sooner rather than later. Because new problems heal a lot faster than chronic problems that the body has often spent years adapting to.

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What healthy people know about spinal function is essential to living well – Part 1