Imagine an empty room. In the middle of that room sits a stationary bicycle. On the rear wheel of the bicycle is some type of contraption. Upon closer inspection you realize it’s an electrical generator, and a power cord runs from it, along the floor, and up the wall where it connects to a light bulb. Now, imagine you’re sitting on the bike and you begin to pedal. As you do, the light turns on.
When you stop, the light turns off, leaving you in darkness. You start again and the light turns on again. You pedal faster and the light gets brighter. After a while, you become fatigued, and you slow down. What do you notice about the light? It gets dimmer. Slower and slower you pedal until the light is barely a flicker. You stop and it turns off. Once again, you’re left in darkness.
What you imagined here explains how your Neuromusculoskeletal system impacts your health. The stationary bike represents your joints. The power cord represents your mechanoreceptors. And the light bulb represents your brain. You don’t have to be a chiropractor Little Falls MN for that to make sense, right?
It is through the activity of the Neuromusculoskeletal system that the brain is powered. In the same way that sunlight is essential for a flower to grow, movement is essential for your brain to be healthy. And the healthier your brain, the healthier every cell, tissue, and organ in your body.
This is why walking thirty minutes a day has been proven to:
* Prevent 47 percent of cognitive impairment
* Prevent 62 percent of Alzheimer’s
* Prevent 52 percent of dementia
* Enhance learning by 12 times
* Decrease depression by 20 percent, including relapses
* Reduce the risk of breast cancer, pancreatic, lung, and colon cancer by 50 percent or more
* Prevent 50 percent of all stroke deaths
* Reduce congestive heart disease deaths by 63 percent
* Reduce hospital readmission for heart failure patients by 70 percent
And the list goes on and on.
It’s not that exercise directly makes our hearts healthier, our immune systems stronger, and our brains keener. It’s that exercise is movement, and movement activates mechanoreceptors that supply the brain with an essential nutrient—stimulation. Then the brain, in turn, makes our hearts healthier, immune systems stronger, and itself keener. It does this by releasing certain hormones that help keep every part of us well, including our internal organs. The details of this activity are outside the scope of this section, but—and trust me as your chiropractor Little Falls MN on this—this is basically how it works.
When you go to a chiropractor Little Falls MN you’ll find out that your joints receive nourishment through a pumping process called “cyclic loading.” How well this “pump” functions depends on how well the joints move. This question may seem completely out-of-the blue, but play along with me. Why is your tongue one of the fastest healing tissues in your body? Here’s a hint: it’s why it’s red.
The answer is blood. When you go to a chiropractor Little Falls MN you’ll find out that it is often the small things that you do not think about that hold the most importance. Your tongue possesses an incredible amount of tiny blood vessels that supply it with more than enough blood to keep it flushed with nutrients. This is what gives it that fast-healing ability. Follow-up question: Why is cartilage one of the slowest healing tissues in your body? Hint: it’s why it’s yellowish gray. Again, the answer is blood, but this time it’s the lack thereof. You see, daily activities like bending, and walking make it impossible for delicate blood vessels to survive inside the cartilage of the joints—there is too much stress and pressure. Because of this, for the most part, cartilage does not have a direct supply line of blood, and is therefore not chocked full of blood, hence its yellowish grey color. In order for cartilage to be healthy and pain-free, it has to get its nutrients through different means.
It accomplishes this through an amazing, self-healing mechanism that harnesses the unique characteristics of your joints to their own advantage: a pump. Through a process very familiar to chiropractor Little Falls MN called “cyclic loading,” every movement you make does two things. It pumps new fluid and nutrients into the joint while simultaneously pumping out old fluid, and it stimulates new cartilage growth. The combination of these two processes is what keeps cartilage strong and resilient. Because this “cyclic loading pump” is so efficient, joints should last about 110 years without premature deterioration and pain.
Every time you take a step, this pumping happens to your knee cartilage. Every time you bend over, this happens to the cartilage discs of your spine. As long as you are moving, you are repetitiously squeezing and stimulating your joint’s cartilage (kind of like playing an accordion). Although your cartilage doesn’t have a direct blood supply like the tongue to keep itself healthy, this ingenious pumping mechanism is more than enough. By the way, it’s important to note that all movements are not equally good for your joints. In the above examples you need to be loading your knee and lower back cartilage within healthy limits in order to reap the benefits of this pump.
You might be thinking, “Okay, Doc, I understand this nerve-muscle-joint connection, but who cares? Why does this matter, really? When your joints move within healthy limits, the Mechanoreceptors fire. Using this information your brain, in turn, tells your Stabilizers and Movers how to respond in a coordinated and balanced manner to keep the joints moving properly. This allows for optimal pumping so that your joints are preserved as close to pain-free as possible. In this collaborative way, your nerves, muscles, and joints work together to form one of the most important systems in your body: the aforementioned Neuromusculoskeletal System. Each component is essential to this cycle. When one element works well, it helps the others do the same.
Nowadays it seems that nearly everyone on the planet knows what a car is. In America, most of us own one or two. We’ve grown up around them, we’ve been on car trips, we’ve taken classes and passed tests to drive them, and through all of that, we’ve learned the basics of owning and operating a car like:
* Look behind you while in reverse.
* If the gas gauge is low, fill up your tank.
* If the check engine light comes on, bring it in to the mechanic.
* A yellow light means slow down and yield.
The list goes on and on. Though most of us understand these basics, very few of us could explain the dynamics of the internal combustion engine despite it being the very thing that makes a car a car. If you think about it, it takes no knowledge to own a car, and little knowledge to drive one. As a chiropractor Little Falls MN, I have seen that pain is very similar…
A lot of people are in pain, and it’s nearly impossible not to have at least some contact with pain in your day-to-day life. You don’t need to understand pain like a chiropractor Little Falls MN does in order to suffer from it, and you certainly don’t need to explain the complex biochemistry behind pain in order to feel it. You do, however, need to know the basics of pain in order to have as little pain as possible in your life.
And that’s what we’re going to cover next.
The Basics: A Canary in a Coal Mine
What do you suppose the purpose of pain is? To make your life uncomfortable? To get in your way? To stop you from having fun? To remind you that you’re getting older?
Of course not.
At the turn of the 20th century, carbon monoxide poisoning was one of the deadliest threats facing coal miners. You see, carbon monoxide gas forms as a result of the incomplete combustion of a fuel. While mining coal, which is a fuel, if there was a fire or an explosion, carbon monoxide gas would form and accumulate within the mine. This was a big problem because carbon monoxide gas, as you probably know, is odorless, tasteless, invisible and deadly. As none of their senses could detect it, miners wouldn’t know they were poisoned until it was too late.
Then along came a scientist who discovered what causes carbon monoxide poisoning and suggested that, because canaries are highly sensitive to toxic gases, miners should carry them down into the mines to serve as an early-warning system. As the miners were toiling away, if they saw a dead canary, it meant that they themselves were being poisoned. This warning sign bought miners precious moments and saved lives.
What does this history lesson have to do with pain?
As a dead canary was a warning sign for miners, pain is a warning sign for you.
But a warning sign of what? The answer is found in the word “pain” itself.
The word pain comes from the Latin “poena,” meaning penalty. In a way, pain means that your body is paying the penalty—which is bodily damage. When something damages the body, specialized nerves called Nociceptors (remember them?) send signals to the brain, which the brain then translates into the sensation of pain.
Pain, then, is your body alerting you to damage and often times that you need to visit a chiropractor Little Falls MN.
That answers the question of what pain is, but we haven’t answered the more important question of: why do we have pain?
The Basics: Pain’s Purpose
Imagine for a moment that you couldn’t feel pain. What would life be like? Some of you are probably thinking, “Yes, please. I’ll have some of that.” Not so fast.
Leprosy is an infectious disease that causes severe skin sores and nerve damage, so much so that the infected person can lose the ability to feel pain. Dr. Paul Brand, a world-renowned expert on the subject, in his book The Gift of Pain, warns us why not being able to feel pain is a bad thing, and alludes to what pain’s purpose really is. Without pain, we would be unaware of injury and devoid of the body’s protective mechanisms.
You may be thinking, “Okay Doc, chiropractor Little Falls MN, I get it”. Pain has a purpose.
But that doesn’t make my neck or back feel any better,” and you’d be right. It doesn’t. But knowing this information is an important step on the way to eliminate back and neck pain once and for all.
When you start working with a chiropractor Little Falls MN you’ll learn that there are two kinds of muscles that must work together in order to keep you healthy. It is absolutely vital to understand how these muscles work and what is required of them in order for these muscles to function properly. You have two types of muscles in your body and when they are in balance your back and neck are healthy and pain-free. They are:
- Superficial, joint-moving muscles — The Movers
- Deep, joint-stabilizing muscles — The Stabilizers
The “Movers” are designed to do just that—move you. These are the muscles that chiropractor Little Falls MN see as the power generators because they propel you. Whether you’re walking down the hall or sprinting through a field, the Movers do it. These muscles have names you are probably familiar with: deltoids, pecs, quads, biceps, etc. You may not have heard of some, like the trapezius and levator scapulae. The crucial thing to remember about these muscles is it’s their nature to dominate, so they have to be kept in check. And that’s where the “Stabilizers” come in.
The “Stabilizers” are designed to prevent the Movers from doing too much. A chiropractor Little Falls MN focus on these muscles is because they hold the joints together, protecting them. These muscles go by tongue-twisting names like multifidus, rotatores, gluteus medius, quadratus lumborum, and intertransversarii. You’ve probably never heard of them before, but believe me, they are important.
As I mentioned earlier, the Stabilizers and the Movers have an intimate relationship. The Movers depend on the Stabilizers to anchor down the joints as they move us from Point A to Point B. Whether you are a professional bodybuilder squatting four hundred pounds or an accountant squatting to pick up a piece a paper, these muscle groups have to work together in a coordinated manner. Your Movers move your joints so that you can live life—walk, jump, climb, sit down, bend over, etc. Your Stabilizers keep your Movers in check by anchoring down the joints, ensuring that the movement of your joints stays within healthy limits.
To summarize it all, when both muscle groups are equally strong and are coordinated with each other, they are considered “in balance.” If the coordination is thrown off, the muscles become out-of-balance, and major problems enter your life. That is why we encourage you to communicate to your chiropractor and doctor to create a health plain that creates an environment where these two muscles work together. When this is achieved you are able to live a pain free life where you are able to do all the activities you love.
The next few pages took an incredible amount of time to write, mostly because it’s the distillation of a ton of scientific studies which as a chiropractor Little Falls MN I’ve had to read quite a few of. If you’ve ever read an actual research article, you’ll know the authors often use seven-dollar college words (mostly long-winded medical jargon) to “explain” their studies. I’m not going to do that.
My goal is to present that information in such a way that you’ll understand it. If I’ve done my job—and you pay close attention—this next part will provide the foundation necessary to understand The Vicious Cycle, and, more importantly, it will provide a springboard for you to live a pain-free life.
The Basics: Nerves, muscles, and joints are intimately connected.
The term “neuromusculoskeletal system” is used to describe the close relationship that nerves, muscles, and joints have with each other. All three are absolutely essential, each serving its own unique purpose that all need to be taken care of, ask your chiropractor Little Falls MN. You can’t have one without the other because they are totally integrated and have to work together. This means when something goes wrong, they all are equally damaged. Muscles move us, but the nerves coordinate such movement, and the joints provide the freedom and direction of that movement. Each element depends on the previous one, and influences the next. One of these cannot do anything, good or bad, without the next being affected by it.
* A nerve can never react without a muscle responding.
* A muscle can never respond without a joint being affected.
* And a joint can never be affected without making a nerve react.
That’s the way you’re put together.
I’m going to introduce each component, and share one or two important pieces of information about how they work that will come in handy later. Remember this, though, none of these pieces were designed to become dysfunctional, damaged, and be the cause of your pain. Each was designed to do the exact opposite to stay healthy and keep you pain-free.
The Basics: You have two types of nerves in your neuromusculoskeletal system: mechanoreceptors and nociceptors. (mek-a-no-re-sep-tore-s) and (no-see-sep-tore-s).
Yes, they sound like members of the dinosaur family, but stick with me on this one. Can you name your five senses?
How did you do?
Here’s the answer: Smell. Taste. Sight. Hearing. Touch.
Well done, not even many chiropractor Little Falls MN can do that. What about your sixth sense? I bet you didn’t know you have a sixth sense, did you? (And no I’m not talking about the movie). Your sixth sense is called “joint sense.” Here’s what I mean. Shut your eyes and hold your hand in front of you while doing the “peace” sign. Keep your arm there and count to ten. Go ahead. Give it a try. Did you do it?
Now, consider this: You could not smell or taste your fingers when they were in front of you (or at least I hope not). You could not see or hear your arm and fingers. And you didn’t have to touch your arm using your other hand to know that it was extended, did you? And yet, I’m sure you were certain that you had your arm and hand in the right position. How is that possible? Through, your sixth sense, joint sense, that’s how.
Joint sense is provided by a special set of nerves that tell your brain exactly what your joints are doing at all times. It’s what allows your brain to “see” your joints so it knows how to control them. I bet you didn’t know this, but most of the work of your brain involves coordinating and controlling your muscles and joints. That’s pretty impressive considering all of the other stuff the brain is responsible for doing.
The ins and outs of “joint sense” can get pretty technical, so let’s try to keep it simple, you shouldn’t have to be a chiropractor Little Falls MN in order to understand. When we break it down, you have two types of “joint sense” nerves.
- You have nerves that tell your brain when your joints are moving in a good way. A “good way” is a way that doesn’t damage the joints—when they stay within normal limits. This kind of movement keeps them healthy, and you want as much of this as possible so work with a chiropractor Little Falls MN. This is called mechanoreception, and these nerves are capable of detecting micrometers of change. That’s really small. Like one millionth of a meter small. Think of a car “mechanic” whose job it is to work with the structure and function of your car. In the same way, these nerves deal with the alignment (structure) and movement (function) of your joints (except they don’t wear blue overalls). So that’s mechanoreception.
- Other nerves tell your brain when your joints are positioned and moving in a bad way. A “bad way” is a way that is outside of normal limits and when it happens, your joints get damaged. This is called nociception, and you want as little of this as possible. Think of it as “not good” reception, and your brain is being told that everything is not okay. So that’s nociception.
Pretend that you are studying to be a chiropractor Little Falls MN and remember what mechanoreception and nociception mean because you’re going to see the words time and time again. This next part is important.
When your mechanoreceptors fire up, your brain knows that your joints are doing okay and it, in turn, responds appropriately. If, however, your nociceptors fire up, your brain knows that the joints are in trouble, and it responds in a way, if left unchecked, that will eventually lead to pain. On top of that, nociception also can cause something called a “stress response,” which is not good, either.
Pause a moment before reading any further. If the difference between the two categories of “joint sense” nerves isn’t perfectly clear to you, please go back and re-read from the beginning of this section or ask a chiropractor Little Falls MN for guidance. If you don’t get it, you won’t fully appreciate how The Vicious Cycle or The Solution are important in becoming pain-free.
The Basics: Nerves resist sending messages.
A physical barrier/threshold keeps nerves from being too active, and it ensures that when nerves are not supposed to fire messages, they don’t. This is like how the pain threshold ensures that when you’re not supposed to feel pain, you don’t. We, as a chiropractor Little Falls MN, don’t want any old thing to cause a nerve to fire. It takes persistence. The thing—whether it be damage, hot, cold, vibration, touch, whatever—has to be big enough and happen often enough to cross the threshold. Only then will the nerve send off a message to the brain telling it what’s happening—that’s how nerves “resist.” Really, this barrier is a way to keep our nerves in check, and it’s to our advantage that we’re pre-wired with this function because, if the nerves were allowed to fire off at their slightest whim, our world would fall into complete chaos. We’d, even us chiropractor Little Falls MN, be nervous wrecks. Once again, take a moment and study the graph below before moving on.
Some diseases disrupt the threshold and weaken resistance. Consider Parkinson’s disease, for example. With this devastating ailment, the brain loses its ability to provide the chemicals necessary to resist the firing of nerves. And once the resistance is lost, muscles go haywire leading to shakiness, tremor, slowness, difficulty walking, and a whole host of other problems.
So the stronger your barrier, the stronger your resistance, the harder it is for the threshold to get crossed, and the more likely it is that the nerves won’t be used when they’re not supposed to be used. On the other hand, the weaker your barrier, the weaker your resistance, the easier it is for the threshold to be crossed, and the more likely it is that nerves will be used when they’re not supposed to be used. This will be of great consequence in your pursuit of a pain-free life, if you are in this situation now we encourage you consulting a chiropractor Little Falls MN.
The Basics: Nerves can learn.
Nerves have a very special ability to learn, just like you from a chiropractor Little Falls MN. It’s called “plasticity.” Take learning how to play the piano, for instance. At first, it’s difficult to get your fingers to move and hit the right keys. Ask any parent who has encouraged their child to take piano lessons—and then came to regret it. In the beginning, they hear a lot more ear-piercing music than ear-pleasing music. With practice, the fingers dance across the keyboard and the music becomes enjoyable. Watch a professional pianist play, and it’s almost unreal how fast his fingers fly across the black and whites. It looks like the body is doing it automatically, because it is. Plasticity is found in the nerves, and is the ability to learn through repetition. The same principle is used in the martial arts, athletics, and singing. Everything you’ve ever learned, and have the potential to learn from a chiropractor Little Falls MN, is because of this ability.
The constant use of nerves lowers their resistance, making them fire more readily. So for a piano virtuoso, playing becomes easier and easier the more he practices. That’s plasticity.
It’s why, as children, we are able to learn how to crawl, walk, and run. Whatever that thing you do is, plasticity allows that thing to be done easier the next time you do it.This is why chiropractor Little Falls MN focus on repetition. But what if that thing isn’t being good at playing piano? What if that thing is bad? What if that thing is incorrect movement of your back and neck? What if that thing is poor posture? What if that thing is the nociceptors being repeatedly fired? What happens then?
How long does it take to before you’re caught deep within the Vicious Cycle and desperately turning to a chiropractor Little Falls MN for help? That’s a good question. Considering the number of steps in the Vicious Cycle, you might think it takes a long time to get to the Point of No Return. Indeed, the answer may well surprise you. The creation of a Buckling Point occurs in milliseconds (nearly instantaneous), and so does its recovery. I have found no absolute guidelines regarding the number of times one must use the spine poorly (or, for that matter, to what specific magnitude an impact must have) to force someone into the Dysfunctional Phase. I suspect this information is exceedingly hard to obtain because of the variables (age, nutrition, etc.) of recovery we’ve already discussed.
All else aside, once the Tipping Point has been crossed, you have precious little time.
* Scar tissue begins to be deposited immediately upon joint dysfunction, (3)
* After about a week, joint destruction begins, (4)
* In just two weeks, bone damage, cartilage deterioration, and bone spurring is detectable on X-ray, (3) and
* Within four weeks, irreversible bone spurring occurs. (4)
Here’s the takeaway point: after a Buckling Point has been created, you have less than four weeks to stop the Vicious Cycle. So if you haven’t had your back and neck professionally checked for dysfunction within the month, you’re due for a checkup with a chiropractor Little Falls MN.
How Can This Happen So Quickly?
The Vicious Cycle starts slowly, and then accelerates faster and faster. Here’s an analogy. If your car is out-of-alignment, what happens to your tires? Do they wear down slower or faster? Faster. Now, when your tires wear down, what does that do to your car’s alignment? Make it better or worse? Worse. Now that your car’s alignment is worse, what does that mean for your tires? They wear down much faster. Which means what for the alignment? It gets even worse. You see, the tire’s damage is progressively worsening. That final mile right before your tires blow out actually wears them down faster than all the miles that preceded it.
This is how the Vicious Cycle behaves—kind of like a snowball gathering in size and speed as it rolls down a hill. When dysfunction gets bad enough, it turns into destruction which makes repairing even with a chiropractor Little Falls MN much more difficult. As the tissues become damaged, what do you think happens to the degree of dysfunction? Does it get better or worse? Worse. What does it mean for the amount of damage that dysfunction is causing? Less or More? More.
What does that do to the dysfunction? Makes it worse.
Not only do the nerves, muscles, and joints feed off of each other, but so do the phases of degradation. And although the first step into The Vicious Cycle is merely a stumble, a mistake, if your course isn’t set right, the farther down you’ll go and as the slope becomes steeper, the less time you have and the more likely you are to hurt and be in pain. This is why the old adage, “The worse the problem gets, the worse the problem gets” is true.
- The 14 Foundational Premises for the Scientific and Philosophical Validation of the Chiropractic Wellness Paradigm. James Chestnut, B.Ed., M.Sc., D.C. Pg. 57.
- A Theoretical Basis for Maintenance Spinal Manipulative Therapy, for the Chiropractic Profession Journal of Chiropractic Humanities, December 2011; Vol. 1; No. 1; pp.74-85 David N. Taylor DC, DACBN.
There is a difference between knowledge and action.
—Dr. John Grams, pastor, and all around great dad
I‘ve hit you with a lot of information, but it’s all vital stuff to know even if you are not a chiropractor Little Falls MN. Think about it. If You Do Something Wrong or if Something Bad Happens To You then comes:
– The Buckling Point. Nociception. Muscle imbalance. Abnormal joint movement.
– The Tipping Point. Constant nociception. Muscle incoordination. Turning off the pump.
– The Breaking Point. Sensitization. Stabilizer atrophy. Degeneration.
– The Point of No Return. Allodynia. Hyperalgesia. Neoneuralization. Scar tissue. Bone spurring.
– The Dead Canary. Pain. Nociceptive bombardment. Adaptive physiology. Sickness. Disease. Death.
Whew. That’s a lot to grab hold of and swallow. But take heart: it’s nothing like the physical pain I’m going to help you avoid as a chiropractor Little Falls MN.
When your body gets caught in The Vicious Cycle, you’re able to do less and less. Your self-reliance and independence begins to crumble. You lose control of your body and life. Doing what you want becomes harder and harder. And for most people, The Vicious Cycle continues as they pile on Tylenol, NSAIDs, potions, lotions, injections, incomplete physical care, some type of cleverly marketed cure-all, and who knows, maybe a dreaded spinal surgery. Then, because The Vicious Cycle still hasn’t been stopped, they go back to the doctor or chiropractor Little Falls MN seeking answers, and hear the despicable soul-destroying words (and yes they’re worth repeating), “There’s nothing you can do about it,” or “You’ll have to learn to live with it,” or “It’s just a part of getting older,” or “It’s all in your head.”
The thing that really grinds my gears, the thing that truly boggles my mind, is that during the whole cycle, the back and neck have always had the potential to get better. Your body is designed to fight back. Your body hates The Vicious Cycle. It hates that it’s being forced to damage itself. It hates not being able to express its full potential. It hates not living a pain-free life. It desperately wants to recover.
All we have to do is to figure out how to give it what it wants.
Right now, you know more about the actual origins of back and neck pain than most health professionals do. Good, but it’s not good enough. Growing up my father always said, “Benjamin, there is a difference between knowledge and action,” and he’s right. It’s how you apply this knowledge to your life that is the important part. Doing something different to get a different result is where the magic lies. But what do you do now? How do you break free of the Vicious Cycle and catapult yourself into a pain-free life?
Good question. Read on, my friend.
The saying “The straw that broke the camel’s back” originates from ancient Egypt when camels were used to transport straw over long distances and is an example I as a chiropractor Little Falls MN use a lot. It was well known that a camel could carry a certain amount of weight without any problems, but at a certain point, the camel’s spine couldn’t sustain any more weight. If that point was crossed, even by a single straw, the camel’s back would break.
Get this from your favorite chiropractor Little Falls MN. In the Dysfunctional Phase, this is exactly what your back and neck have been going through. Your nerves, muscles, and joints have had an increasing amount of stress put on them making it only a matter of time before they hit the Breaking Point—when Dysfunction turns into Destruction.
During this next phase, the slope of the Vicious Cycle gets much steeper. Your back and neck begin breaking down, which moves you away from being pain-free and healthy and closer to pain and sickness.
Destruction: The Nerves—Nociceptors
If you remember, nerves have a natural resistance that serves as a barrier against them firing too easily. During the Dysfunctional Phase that barrier remained untouched, but during the phase of Destruction, that wall comes tumbling down. Here’s how as a chiropractor Little Falls MN I have seen it happen.
Prolonged, involuntary joint dysfunction forces nociceptors to fire over and over again, wearing down their resistance and lowering their threshold.
This means that it takes less stimulus to cause them to fire. In fact, the Nociceptors become so “on edge” and “wound up” that they overreact at the slightest provocation. It can even get to the point where normal and healthy movements cause them to fire. This nerve-disease process has a name, and it’s the one you’ve seen before: sensitization (mentioned in the first pain myth).
If pain sets in while sensitization is present, it can make for a real mess. Ask any chronic pain sufferer which most people who come to this chiropractor Little Falls MN are or have been. Activities that used to be done without thinking—like getting dressed in the morning—now cause the pain sufferer to move more warily.
Sensitization not only makes it easier for Nociceptors to fire, but it is also a vehicle in which the Vicious Cycle spreads to other areas by corrupting adjacent nerves. Unless stopped, sensitization will infect the nerve down to its root: the spinal cord. This is disastrous because all nerves connect to the spinal cord, so once there, sensitization spreads like wildfire. Nerves that were functioning normally, three, four, or five segments away from the initial Dysfunctional Joint, now turn into sensitized, Nociceptive zombies.
And, of course, where Nociception goes, dysfunction follows, and where dysfunction goes, destruction is soon to come.
Note here that more Nociception does not necessarily mean more pain. It certainly can, but it doesn’t have too. In fact, believe it or not, everything described so far can still occur without any symptoms or pain. We only consciously comprehend a tiny fraction of what is happening with our bodies. When I say tiny, I mean.00000000000016 percent. Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking you would know if this was happening to your back and neck. I’ve heard dozens of patients over my career as a chiropractor Little Falls MN, hunched over in pain, say things like, “This just came out of nowhere.” The truth is that back problems never come from out of nowhere. They always come from somewhere, and that somewhere is usually Nociception and the Vicious Cycle.
Destruction: The Nerves—Mechanoreceptors
While Nociceptors are being sensitized, the exact opposite is happening to the Mechanoreceptors. Their threshold increases, building resistance, making it more difficult for them to fire.
This forces the Mechanoreceptors to be less active, and in the end this lack of use causes their pathways to deteriorate like an old, under-used, and under-cared-for road. It becomes difficult for them to do their job of feeding the brain information about what the joints are doing. Since the brain depends on Mechanoreceptors to “see” the joints and control them, this lack of signaling causes the brain to become essentially “blind” to those joints. This allows for more severe muscle and joint dysfunction.
This “blindness” can get so bad that without help, you won’t be able to move your body the way you’re supposed to. I see people in this stage nearly every day in my chiropractor Little Falls MN clinic. I’ll ask a patient to perform a very simple move with his neck or lower back, one that most six-year-olds can perform easily, but the man won’t be able to do it. I’ll explain it again, walking him through the steps. He’ll try again and fail. At this point, I’ll have to demonstrate the move so he can see how to do it. I’ll have him try it again, and he may fail again.
When it gets to this point, I’ll have to grasp him and move his neck or back for him so he can feel it. It may take a few sessions of this type of one-on-one attention, but after a while he’ll start to do it right. You see, it’s because his brain lacks Mechanoreception that he lost the ability to move his neck or back the way he’s supposed to, and the only way to change this is to turn the Mechanoreceptors back on. That’s exactly what The Solution does when you see a chiropractor Little Falls MN.
Destruction: The Muscles—The Stabilizers
First, the Stabilizers begin to atrophy (a medical word for “to waste away”). The reflex that made it more difficult for the Stabilizers to contract worsens and causes them to “shut off” like a light switch. Eventually, they weaken and start withering away like an unwatered lawn in the heat of summer.
This has profound implications making it much harder for the chiropractor Little Falls MN to engage in the healing process. In the Dysfunctional Phase, the Stabilizers simply need to be re-awakened in order to restore their normal function and eliminate pain, but in the Destruction Phase, they have to be completely rebuilt—a much more involved process.
Destruction: The Muscles—The Movers
While this is happening to the Stabilizers, the Movers begin to go through their own type of destruction. During the Dysfunctional Phase, the Nociceptors forced the Movers to become overactive. When they should be resting, they’re working, and when they’re supposed to be working, they overdo it. At first the Movers can handle this extra activity and stress, but it’s not long before they hit their Breaking Point and begin to micro-tear.
Unless you’re well versed in the world of physical medicine like a chiropractor Little Falls MN, you’ve probably never heard of a micro-tear. Let me explain. A muscle is made of millions of tiny, individual muscle fibers—much like how a rope is made of smaller fibers.
If that rope is suddenly put under a lot of tension, it will completely tear.
If that happens to a muscle, it’s called a rupture, which can occur, for instance, by falling on an out-stretched arm. If a rope has stress or tension that’s quite small at the beginning, but slowly increases, it won’t suddenly fail, but rather its individual fibers will start to break one-by-one on its way to giving out. That’s micro-tearing.
With atrophying Stabilizers and micro-tearing Movers making the muscle imbalance and incoordination more profound, destruction to the joints is soon to follow.
Destruction: The Joints
At this point, because of erratic movement and overall lack of joint mobility, the flushing of nutrients into the joint has basically stopped. Firstly, this causes a buildup of inflammatory metabolic “waste” that begins to eat away at the joint from the inside out like acid. Secondly, lack of pumping severely starves the cartilage and bone, literally killing the cells. This combination results in destruction. Here’s how:
* Synovial fluid (the oil in between the joints): It gets used up faster than it can be replaced, resulting in a liquid that’s too watery to protect and lubricate. This leaves the cartilage exposed to too much friction. This is like what would happen to your car’s engine if you were to put in the wrong kind of motor oil.
* Articular cartilage (the thin layer of cartilage that cover the ends of bones): The loss of synovial fluid, and increase in friction, causes this cartilage to wear thin. The resulting lack-of-cushion puts increased stress on the underlying bone.
* Bone (i.e., vertebrae): After the protective cartilage has worn away, the bone begins to feel the burn of friction, ultimately causing damage and bone death.
* Intervertebral discs: As the cells that form its cartilage begin to die off, the layers of the disc begin to separate, tear, and collapse like an old, run-down building. This structural damage robs the disc’s ability to handle stress and the body’s weight. Result: much faster degradation. It’s during this phase that the disc is likely to herniate, “slip,” or bulge.
As all of this is going on, what do you think is happening to the joint’s alignment and mobility?
Often times as a chiropractor Little Falls MN, I see it gets much worse. Sooner rather than later, the dysfunction and destruction of one joint begins to spread, affecting entire regions of the spine. No longer is it only one spot in the neck that is problematic, now it’s the whole neck. This brings about even more Nociception and more destruction in the nerves, muscles, and joints
Allowing the Vicious Cycle to build more momentum until one defining moment occurs—The Point of No Return.
We know that nociceptors send stress signals to the spinal cord, which then causes a reflex that leads to loss of balance and coordination in muscles, thus driving us further into the Vicious Cycle. But as a chiropractor Little Falls MN I know that those stress signals don’t stop there. Their next destination is your brain, and from there, potentially, to every cell in your body.
Once the stress signal hits the spinal cord, it shoots up to the brain via the “spino-thalamo-cortico-pituitario-tract”—a fancy string of words that describe the pathways a nociceptor takes to the brain and you’ll never hear again unless you’re a chiropractor Little Falls MN. You see, increased nociception can cause your brain to release “stress hormones,” which are responsible for virtually every symptom of stress: increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, increased feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, and depression. They’re also responsible for symptoms you may not be aware of: insulin resistance, elevated blood sugar levels, a change in blood cholesterol profile, diminished immune system function, bone loss, and sensitivity to pain.
As the Vicious Cycle progresses, and the increasing amount of nociceptive stress signals continue to bombard the brain and more stress hormones are released, as Dr. James Chestnut notes: “Increased release of stress hormones drives the physiology of the body toward a state of alarm and adaption, and, if these levels remain elevated, can result in fatigue, illness, and early death.”(5)
You want the least possible amount of stress hormones in your body at all times. When you consider that heart disease is the leading killer of Americans and is due, in part, to prolonged increased heart rate, blood pressure, and bad cholesterol, this becomes paramount to prolonged health. Consider, too, the second leading killer of Americans: cancer. One of the immune system’s main jobs is to identify and eliminate cancerous tumors growing in the body. If you have stress hormones coursing throughout your body for too long, your immune system weakens, and that allows cancer to grow unchecked. Lastly, think of diabetes—the third leading cause of death in the U.S. —and the fact that stress hormones allow blood sugar levels to run rampant. Once again to quote Dr. Chestnut:
“Without proper mechanoreception/nociception to your brain, you are literally sick and aging at an accelerated rate.”
I hope you better understand how devastating it is to let your spine enter and progress through the Vicious Cycle and you contact a chiropractor Little Falls MN. Not only does it rob your back and neck of their ability to be pain-free, but also, if left unchecked, can steal your potential to be healthy.
- The 14 Foundational Premises for the Scientific and Philosophical Validation of the Chiropractic Wellness Paradigm. James Chestnut, B.Ed., M.Sc., D.C. pg. 225.
Your brain thinks your back and neck are important just like this chiropractor Little Falls MN does. I hope you’re starting to think so, too. When dysfunction has occurred in the spine, it is a dangerous situation—your nerves and spinal cord, essential components of staying alive, are at risk. When destruction sets in, the downward slope of the Vicious Cycle turns into a cliff, and the body enters into a free-fall of an ever-worsening condition. If this trend isn’t stopped, there comes a point when the back and neck have deteriorated so much that your brain takes matters into its own hands.
When the Point of No Return is crossed, your brain understands that your spine needs attention, and realizes that you’re either unwilling or unable to help it. This is an emergency, and the brain issues a “code red” alert, moving the back and neck into a phase of Pathological Protection—when the nerves, muscles, and joints start to protect themselves. It’s a particularly vicious step because these actions cannot be taken back.
Once you hit this point in the Vicious Cycle, it’s impossible to get your spine all the way back to being completely normal and healthy. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this doesn’t mean there is no hope for you. Hitting The Point of No Return does not mean you cannot live a life mostly free of pain. But it does means you have a lot of work ahead of you which is why we encourage you finding a chiropractor Little Falls MN.
Pathological Protection: The Nerves
This is when we can actually start to feel the sensitization that the nerves have been going through. First, the back and neck develop “hyperalgesia” (definition: hyper = over, algesia = pain) which refers to an abnormally intense pain response induced by a painful stimulus. Example: when your grandson jumps on your back, you’re sore for the next three weeks. You knew it would hurt, but you didn’t think it would hurt that bad and for that long..
After that, the back and neck develop “allodynia,” which refers to pain that occurs in response to harmless stimuli. This is when something shouldn’t hurt, but does. In my practice as a chiropractor Little Falls MN, I have firsthand experience with these phenomena. I examine patients, and no matter where I touch their back, they nearly jump off the exam table in pain. I have patients tell me that simply brushing up against a wall or the slightest change in weather causes pain. (Keep in mind that both hyperalgesia and allodynia are driven by sensitization, which develops from constant nociceptive firing due to abnormal joint movement.)
Not only do the nerves become more sensitive to pain, but new nerves can grow into areas of damage, like disc and muscle. The process of new nerve growth in dysfunctional and damaged tissue is called “neoneuralization” (neo = new, neural = nerve, ization = “the process of”). When you combine this with allodynia, it creates a really sticky mess for people. Think about it. At this point, your body is creating more nerves that are able to feel more pain.
Those last three paragraphs are important, so take some time, and read them again as if you are a chiropractor Little Falls MN.
It’s true. Nerves become more sensitive to pain, and your body reacts by growing more nerves to stimulate more pain. What’s up with that? Isn’t that a bit masochistic? Why do the nerves start to feel more pain? Remember the purpose of pain? It’s a warning—and it’s for your protection. The nervous system starts to go down this path because if you do something that hurts, chances are you won’t do that something again. That’s how the nerves start to protect your back and neck.
I’m reminded of a patient who sought my care as a chiropractor Little Falls MN following a second failed spinal surgery. When she came in, she couldn’t stand for longer than five minutes without severe low-back pain. A side bend made her yelp in pain. The act of getting on the exam table and lying on her stomach brought her to tears. When I started to feel her back, assessing her muscle tone, she yelled in pain.
She was a mess.
Now this woman was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and it broke my heart as her chiropractor Little Falls MN to see her in so much pain. I point this out because The Vicious Cycle doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor; overweight or in good shape; famous or not well-known; young or old; or African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, or Asian. If a Buckling Point is created in your spine, this is what happens. Once the Tipping Point is crossed, it has to be thoroughly addressed, otherwise it gets worse. If it crosses the Point of No Return, permanent changes have occurred and it is considerably harder to become pain-free.
Pathological Protection: The Muscles
Although the muscles are atrophied and micro-tearing, they are still forced to do their job day in and day out. When you drive, for instance, you still have to turn your head to check your blind spot. You still have to carry in the groceries in from the car. You still have to bend over to pick up the dirty clothes that you, or more likely your kids, dropped on the floor. This never-ending use of broken-down muscle tissue interferes with its healing process. The atrophied muscles are trying to rebuild, and the micro-tears are trying to repair, but they can’t because the Vicious Cycle has brought them so far away from the environment they need for healing they have to take action to protect themselves.
In an optimal environment, like while receiving care from a chiropractor Little Falls MN, muscle heals muscle. In a suboptimal environment, scar tissue heals muscle.
When damaged muscles are caught in the Vicious Cycle, and they attempt to heal, scar tissue is laid down instead of new muscle fibers.
Scar tissue is non-flexible, short, and is altogether different from normal muscle tissue—much like how a scar on the skin is different than the skin itself.
You might ask, “How does scar tissue protect me?” Well, scar tissue is actually tougher than muscle tissue. That’s why it’s laid down. It’s the body’s way to protect the muscles from further tearing. Unfortunately, there are many disadvantages to scar tissue.
1 Scar tissue doesn’t look like muscle. Muscle is nice, smooth, and organized. Scar tissue, on the other hand, is a gnarled entanglement of dead muscle fibers, cartilage, and nerves.
2 Scar tissue causes more pain. Unlike scar tissue found in skin, which has less pain-sensitive nerves, scar tissue in muscle has more pain-sensitive nerves, making it a possible source, all by itself, of significant pain. Not good news for pain sufferers.
3 Scar tissue spreads. It tethers to surrounding muscles, causing otherwise normal muscles to become dysfunctional, and continues to throw off your muscle balance.
4 Scar tissue causes less motion and loss of function. Loss of function results in that tissue, whether it’s neck, back, shoulder, or knee, getting weaker and eventually re-aggravated—more often than not—by normal, everyday use.
While this may seem new to you, you’ve actually known about muscle scar tissue for quite some time, but by a different name: muscle knots. Scar tissue is what causes muscles to “knot up.” In fact, go ahead and feel the knots at the base of your neck, by your shoulders. Think those are normal? Harmless? There for no reason? Ha! What you’re feeling is overworked, under-rested, out-of-balance, scar-tissue-ridden muscles. Since we’re on the topic, muscles do not simply develop “knots” out of the blue. People often say this, and you’ve probably said it yourself: “I have knots in my shoulders.” “I have knots in my low back.” And so on. What’s actually happening is that scar tissue is tethering to the surrounding muscle, causing it to knot up.
I hope you understand why it makes me, a chiropractor Little Falls MN, shudder when people nonchalantly say, “I always have knots there.” They don’t know that so much has had to go wrong in order for those “knots” to form.
Pathological Protection: The Joints
Up to this point, the weakened cartilage and bone have been getting damaged because they have been forced to keep you moving even though they don’t have the ability to withstand the stress that comes with it. In response to this, changes occur within the cartilage and bone that stop the joint from being able to move because if the joint can’t move, then movement can’t hurt the joint. That makes sense, doesn’t it? The only problem is that your level of activity is determined by your level of mobility, so if your joints move less, you move less, and if you move less, you do less.
Here are some of the changes that take place:
The intervertebral disc: as it breaks down, it goes from being soft and squishy to tough and inflexible. It goes from basically being a shock-absorbing water balloon to a rough leathery sack.
The bone (i.e., vertebrae): the parts that were under friction in the last phase now react by laying down new, thicker bone—kind of like scar tissue to muscle.
Trouble is, the body doesn’t lay down just enough to replace what was lost. Not a chance. The body adds layer upon layer of bone, causing the once nicely square vertebrae to develop jagged, gargoyle-looking bone spurs. Not only that, but this outgrowing of bone can lead to the narrowing of the little holes through which the spinal nerves exit, causing a condition called foraminal stenosis. It can get so severe that the spinal canal which houses the spinal cord will start to narrow—a condition called spinal stenosis.
Why does the body do this? How does a bone spur protect your spine? Bone spurs, in fact, do two things: first, they stabilize the joint, and second, they increase the surface area available to the disc, thereby making it more resilient and stable. This is good until you realize what you’re sacrificing once again, mobility, and your ability to do what you want.
I hope you now understand why as a chiropractor Little Falls MN I almost fell off my chair when a patient casually mentions she’s been told she has arthritis and some bone spurring, and there’s really nothing that can be done. Remember, “It’s normal,” and “simply a part of aging,” Right? WRONG! It has very little to do with “aging,” and nearly everything to do with how deep into the Vicious Cycle you’ve traveled.
Keep this in mind. If you are ever shown an X-ray of your spine, and the doctor points at the image and says, “That’s arthritis,” or “That’s regenerative joint disease,” or “That’s a bone spur,” immediately look at the other joints and see if all of them have the exact same amount of arthritis, degeneration, or spurring. Chances are you’ll see a joint that looks fine, like there’s nothing wrong with it. If that’s the case, do yourself a huge favor and ask the doctor, “Why is that area more broken down than the other area?” If he blows off your question with an answer like “aging,” or “that’s how it goes,” or if they don’t give you a clear answer that makes sense to you based on what you now understand of the Vicious Cycle, consider getting a second opinion from a chiropractor Little Falls MN.
If the doctor can’t explain the difference to you, they don’t have the right kind of knowledge to get you better.
The Bottomless Pit
Ignorance is not bliss. What you don’t know about your body will hurt you. This is the reason why this part of the Vicious Cycle is called the “Point of No Return” is that once you’ve gone this far, you can’t make it all the way back. The brain has been forced to take command and, unfortunately, that means permanent changes. Once a bone spur is formed, it’s there to stay. Once a certain amount of scar tissue has developed, it cannot be totally extricated. Once the nerves are so sensitized that you feel pain from normal touch, they can’t be totally desensitized. All of these things rob you of your mobility, activity level, and quality of life, and will lead you further and further down the Vicious Cycle and eventually into more and more pain.
The good news is that by applying The Solution, you will be able to show your brain that not only do you care, but you know how to care for your spine. This is the first and most important step to break the Vicious Cycle and rid yourself of pain once and for all.
What happens next ultimately becomes the driving force behind the entire Vicious Cycle—it is the engine that moves the car. The tricky bit is that it occurs without a single symptom leaving many people unaware that their spine has started down a dangerous path. My hope, as a chiropractor Little Falls MN, is that you won’t be part of that group. For reaffirmation, at the end of this section, I have included a “self-test” you should take which will determine whether or not this is happening to you. The results might be surprising.
The last section left off with Nociceptors initiating a reflex that forced an imbalance between the Movers and the Stabilizers. Remember, these muscles move the joints, and to do so properly, they have to be balanced. When a Buckling Point occurs, and the muscles become imbalanced, their actions become uncoordinated, which results in the joint not moving properly. Instead of gliding smoothly, the joint moves erratically. If the reflex doesn’t cease and muscle balance restored, the joint will stay moving like this, and will be officially designated as “dysfunctional.” (What nerves detect this type of “bad” movement? Nociceptors.) After all this, Nociceptors then begin firing repeatedly, and the once momentary reflex is now the standard operating procedure. This is when the Tipping Point has been crossed, and your back and neck have officially entered into the Vicious Cycle. Go to a chiropractor Little Falls MN before this happens!
You see, before the Tipping Point you had to be hit by something, or you had to keep making mistakes in order to fire the nociceptors. But now, they fire whenever that dysfunctional joint moves (which will be every time you move your spine). After this point has been crossed, your back and neck are set on a course to develop problems and eventual pain. This is another paragraph worth rereading even if you are not a chiropractor Little Falls MN. The clear, uncompromising and downright depressing message: once you’ve reached the Tipping Point, any movement is another step closer to pain. How lovely.
Worsening Dysfunction: The Muscles
Because the Movers have become facilitated, it’s easy for them to contract and become overactive. From this, eventually, they tighten. Because of inhibition, it gets increasingly difficult for the Stabilizers to contract, so they tend to be underused and grow weaker. This causes the imbalance and in coordination between the two muscle groups to worsen.
Worsening Dysfunction: The Joints
The growing severity of muscle imbalance and incoordination turns the joint’s erratic movement into lack-of-movement. Losing mobility is bad because it structurally weakens joints which causes people to visit a chiropractor Little Falls MN. Remember, your joints depend on motion to “pump” nutrients into the cartilage and bone. Lack of mobility turns off the pump that flushes the joints with nutrients, thus it starves the cartilage and bone, weakening them.
Worsening Dysfunction: The Big Wheel Keeps On Turning
– As the joints begin to weaken, do you think their mobility gets better or worse? Worse.
– With worsening mobility, do the nociceptors fire less or more? More.
– Does this put less or more stress on the muscles? More.
– What happens to their imbalance and in-coordination? It gets worse.
– What does that do to the joint’s mobility? Gets even worse, making the joints even weaker.
As long as the three elements—the nerves, muscles, and joints—are dysfunctional, the momentum of the Vicious Cycle continues to build. It’s important to note that although the joints aren’t moving the way they should be moving, there isn’t any damage yet. Here’s a quote from the research:
“Initially, there is abnormal motion of the spinal segment and pathological signs of degeneration are minimal; this stage being termed ‘spinal dysfunction.’”(2)
There is an important concept in those words. They describe a “stage” where the back and neck have “abnormal motion” before “degeneration” occurs. They’re saying that Dysfunction precedes Destruction, and it’s not until something gets damaged that there is the potential for pain. Not only is this “dysfunctional” phase without symptoms, but it is also without damage—which is what makes it tricky to detect. Unfortunately, because of this many people are walking around completely oblivious that this is happening to their neck and back. Or worse, they know, but don’t care because it’s not causing pain…yet. So consult a chiropractor Little Falls MN!
Which is complete lunacy.
Do we think plaque buildup on teeth is okay because it hasn’t yet rotted out the tooth? Do we think a little bit of mold in a new house is no big deal because it’s not out-of-control yet? Do we think elevated blood sugar levels aren’t important because they haven’t yet caused insulin resistance—a telltale sign of Type II diabetes? Of course not. Everyone knows if a small problem isn’t fixed, it only gets worse. Well, that’s the Dysfunctional Phase in the Vicious Cycle—if you take care of this small weed now by seeing a chiropractor Little Falls MN, it won’t grow out of control.
If you can get the nociceptors to cease firing, the muscles will recover, and the Dysfunctional Phase will stop because the nerves, muscles, and joints still have the potential to return back to normal. In order to do so, dysfunction must turn into function. For that to happen, the treatment must address all three elements equally and completely by a professional chiropractor Little Falls MN. This is why the standard approach to back and neck pain is such a complete failure—it simply doesn’t do that. Most treatments available today allows the three elements to continue to feed off each other. Lucky for you, The Solution addresses all three elements thoroughly. You’re almost there.
If the spinal dysfunction isn’t caught and corrected by a professional like a chiropractor Little Falls MN, it will continue to worsen until the back and neck enter the next phase of the Vicious Cycle: The Destruction Phase.
As you sit there reading this article, there’s a good chance your back and neck is in a dysfunctional state right now. Curious? There’s a simple way to determine if the base of your neck and mid-back have entered into this phase. I’ll explain the test. You don’t have to be a chiropractor Little Falls MN to do it. Then when I say “go,” give it a try. First, let your arms rest loosely at your sides. Then, take a very, very deep breath in, as deep as you can manage. Ready? Go.
Okay, relax. Don’t worry, no one is watching.
Now do it again. But this time pay attention to what your shoulders are doing.
Do they stay at one level? Do they rise up? Do they depress? Got it? Ready? Set. Go.
Here’s how to interpret the test. If your shoulders elevated at all, you failed and your upper back and neck muscles are dysfunctional. If your neck and mid back Stabilizers were balanced and coordinated, your shoulders would not elevate. Instead, your belly would expand (called diaphragmatic breathing) and your shoulders would depress.
If you didn’t pass, it could very well mean that your neck and mid back are currently dysfunctional. You’ve been warned by a chiropractor Little Falls MN!
- Upright RadiologyVolume 63, Issue 9, September 2008, Pages 1035-1048 Clinical Radiology,F. Alyas, D. Connell, A. Saifuddin