Guillan-Barre Syndrome- Acupuncture and Chiropractic

The people reading this blog are going to fall squarely in two categories: those who will raise an eyebrow and a “huh?”, and those who will really pay attention. I don’t often blog about lesser known medical topics, but after a couple recent patient encounters, thought it would be worthwhile this time.

Guillan-Barre is an acute auto-immune peripheral nerve disease, usually post-viral. It can cause profound, severe and rapid loss of motor function in the limbs, face, spine, as well as profound loss of sensation and tingling. While most patients eventually recover, some continue to have persistent weakness in limb or face, and commonly continued neuropathy in the hands and feet, for years after the acute illness. Beyond the initial medical treatment with immunoglobulins, and rehab, patients do not have a lot of medical options for the residuals.

Acupuncture and chiropractic combined, along with an anti-inflammatory diet and some target supplementation, can make a big difference in the residual symptoms of Guillan-Barre. All of us field practitioners would like to see more published large scale studies, but til then, here is a nice case study

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Chiropractic as Part of an Anti-Opioid Strategy

This great piece of 2018 research has probably not received the publicity it deserves, especially not in light of the sobering stats released from the last 2 years on opioid related deaths in the US, showing little abating. The prescription medications that a patient receives at the time of a first major injury or other musculoskeletal event can be a “gateway drug” to start an addiction cycle that leads patients to street drugs and their lethal potential. And so the need to look at all first line non-opioid interventions in those cases. I rest with a little comfort that our profession is doing their share in trying to reverse the tide.

Birth Related Mild Neck Injuries and Their Widespread Domino Effect

Calving and lambing season has already started based on what our farmers are telling me. At our office, I often joke that we have our “lambing” season of sort, with crops of new babies arriving periodically. The last little one I saw on Friday reminded me of this article that I saw at my alma mater’s homecoming in early February, and that I have wanted to blog about ever since.

As one new mom aptly put it, birth is “an awful lot of contorting in a very small space”. Even under the best of circumstances the path from the in utero position to the outside world through such a narrow passage with lots of possible obstructions and delays, and the in utero position itself, head down in a small funnel for weeks, can be its own problem before the first contraction begins.

The 1992 article from a German surgical center is still incredibly relevant today. I could not load up the original (in German and before the internet cataloging), but the summary article from Dr. Murphy does it justice. These are some major takeaways:

  • Upper cervical injuries are extremely common, ranging from very mild to more severe.

  • There is a consistent, recognizable pattern of postural distortion in a newborn that affect not only the neck and head, but also the posture and development of the pelvis and feet.

  • Rigid head extension is one of the most common postural distortions (emphasis mine). This often means the the newborn will be averse to laying on their back and will scream in the car seat, because of painful pressure over the occiput. This is also the frequent cause of the occipital bald spot, with excessive friction of the skin when the head is extended too far.

  • There are neurological and autonomic issues secondary to the occipital sprain, including feeding difficulty such as reflux and spitting up, and sleep difficulties.

  • Carefully applied manual therapy is the best treatment.

Shoveling safety tips

I am on my third round of shoveling today at home, and could not think of a better topic to review, since it appears that we have one more round of snow coming in a few day. I see a lot of snow clearing injuries, and while not all can be prevented, many can. It comes down to being prepared, having enough time for the job, the right clothing, the right tool , and remembering to use those pesky quads muscles


CHIROPRACTIC AND MEDICARE COVERAGE: 2018-19 legislative proposal

In the very complicated world of health insurance coverage, one little detail that is often lost to consumers is that Medicare is a beast of its own. The commercial insurance market of employer based insurance and individual policies is governed by a combination of state and federal laws. In that regard, those types of insurance are more nimble to changes in coverage. When it comes to Medicare however, this is a federally regulated benefit.

The basic Medicare chiropractic benefits were established in the 70s by Congress, and basically, they have not changed since then, in spite of the evolution of our profession to provide increased levels of complex care and long term management to our senior population. Currently only spinal adjustments for acute conditions are covered, while most commercial health plans provide a more comprehensive coverage ( albeit still with many limitations) to include evaluation/management services, supportive therapies, and extraspinal extremity care.

My standard response to patient frustrated with their Medicare benefits for the past 24 years has been to talk to your elected federal officials, since they are the only ones able to change that. Up until recently, there has been been very little interest in doing so, but the times are changing and more access to primary neuromuscular care is definitely on everybody’s mind, mostly for cost containment purposes. Our national association is making it easy for you to contact your federal reps and let them know how much you support this initiative.

Part Three: Mattress

Mattresses, even more so than pillows, are subject to personal preferences.  When probed about it by patients, I often turn the question around: “If you think back about the different beds where you have slept in the past couple of years, at home and while travelling, what has felt the most comfortable to you?”. Patients sometimes need to be reminded to trust their instincts about what their body is telling them. There is a stoic mentality out there that you need a very firm mattress to support your spine. That is not entirely true. You do need a mattress with a supportive core, and one that does not fail prematurely in the center, but most people feel better with some degree of softness on the outside. The trick is to figure out how much works best for you.

There are a lot of arguments about which mattress material is best, and I don’t plan to add to that. Options range from traditional coil to layers of various materials, to structure foam of synthetic or natural origin. The durability, and often the cost of your mattress will depend upon the quality of the base material and the density of the core, especially the coils.  Structure foam options are popular right now, but you need to look closely at the density per square inch on the manufacturer site, since that is highly variable and ultimately determines the firmness.  Regardless of the material you chose, I recommend that you get a mattress with relatively little top layer built in and retrofit it with the top layer of your choice. This will give you the option to better customize the mattress and change the top layer halfway through the lifespan of your mattress.

From a general health standpoint, you also want to keep in mind that the newer foam materials tend to gas off a lot, especially with the fire-retardant coatings. If you are more sensitive to chemicals, you should consider the newer wool, natural rubber foam options, which unfortunately come at a steeper price point. At a minimum, you should let your new mattress gas off in a well-ventilated area for 1-2 weeks before use.

The type and thickness of the top layers becomes really crucial for patients with wide shoulders, wide hips, or any ongoing issues to the above two pressure points (shoulder impingement, prior shoulder surgery, prior hip replacement, or chronic bursitis). Less than 2 inches is usually not going to be sufficient.

The life span and support of a mattress depends a fair amount on the base of the mattress. I am not a fan of the standard box springs. They fail faster than the mattress and are mostly responsible for the middle sag of aging mattresses. The traditional European slat system is getting more readily available and cheaper. It provides an excellent combination of support and ventilation. A solid base is also an option, but it tends to limit aeration of the mattress.  Flipping the mattress in both directions (180’ and upside down) every couple of months will also extend the life span of a mattress.

As a last note, bed mates sometime have widely different bedding needs and that can be a tricky problem to resolve. One easy option is a mattress with a top layer consisting of two individually controlled inflatable bladders. The other is to install two twin mattresses on a king frame and keep them connected with couple of fitted sheets or mattress protectors. Each side of the bed can be modified with the preferred mattress and top layer, and the transition between the two is usually not a significant barrier.

Part Two: Pillow Talk

I often field the question about what is the best pillow.  I have to retrain the patient to ask a more important question: “What is the best pillow for me right now?”

Pillows are as individual as mattresses, there is no one-size-fits-all.  Patients need to figure out what pillow will likely work for them based on their body type, existing cervical spine problems, and their sleeping position.

Sleeping position: for back sleepers, the pillow needs to be thinner to avoid pushing the head in flexion and aggravating cervical spine loss of normal curve. Ideally the pillow needs to have a slight raised edge to support the cervical curve forward and a middle dip to let the back of the head cradle back (“doughnut type pillow”). Alternately, a pillow made of a material that can be molded to shape the head/neck junction can also work (feather, foam pieces).  For side sleepers, the pillow will need to be thicker to support the distance between the ear and shoulder to keep the head/neck in line with the midback.  You need to subtract the distance that your shoulder will sink into your mattress, which will depend upon the weight of your trunk and the thickness of the mattress top layer.

People alternating between back and side sleeping are the most difficult to fit with the right pillow. Usually you will need a very moldable pillow or a properly sized doughnut pillow to accommodate the position change.

Body type:  In order to account for the amount of compressive forces, larger trunks and heavier heads will need a heavier density pillow and conversely petite individuals can use a lighter density fill. Higher quality pillows will usually have at least two fill/density options (especially feather pillows).

Existing cervical spine issues: the firmness of a pillow is a very individual preference. By the time people show up in my office they have often tried several pillows and have already figured out what firmness works best for them.  As a general rule people with active inflammatory cervical degenerative issues will need a softer, more contouring material. You can still have a firmer base such as structure foam as long as you have a couple inches of softer material on the periphery. There are a variety of softer options on the market including feather, broken foam, fillable water bladders and inflatable air bladders. The latter two options are less common but some patient enjoy the flexibility of modifying the thickness and firmness as needed.

Also remember that pillows have a relatively short life span, and usually need to be replaced every couple of years.