Common Questions About Nerve Pain and Sleep

Answered by Dr. Pete from Island Family Chiropractic

From our Live with Dr Pete Series on Instagram, Dr. Pete answers some commonly asked questions about chiropractic care.

Below are these questions from this session:

Can you fix a pinched nerve? 

There's no such thing as a pinched nerve. It used to be believed that the bone was pinching on a nerve-this would kill the nerve. 

Think of football if one guy gets over the line too close, that’s called encroachment. If the nerve is encroached, then it starts firing at the wrong time. Nerves are sending improper messages to the brain. 

People don't actually ever have pinched nerves, it is called encroachment. It's more like a forest fire where you can tame the fire and circle back to where the fire started, you have to find the root cause of the fire to put it out.

What causes sciatica issues?

Only 3% of all back pain is sciatica. This is actually from herniated disks. We think its sciatica, but what most of us actually have is referred to as pain or radicular pain or muscle spasms. We do palpation, range of motion and flexibility to test for this. 

What happens is the pain gets referred down the muscles. Pain cannot travel down, pain travels up from the source. Our brain can fool us into thinking it's one thing not another. I have only treated-10 to 15 orders for an MRI, for actual sciatica issues. The practitioner will go through the history of the patient, range of motion, flexibility, and ortho, to determine where the pain is coming from. 

After treatment if the pain is still there then we will order and go over an MRI. MRI costs have gone through the roof, but the results have not increased because this is often not an accurate cause.

Sleep-what can someone do to ensure they get better quality sleep? Does the pillow matter? What about the mattress?

Causes of sleep problems can be more on the emotional side caused by stress, overstimulation, lights, a phone or clock being by the bed. If the neck hurts or if the back hurts, pain can inhibit sleep. There are emotional, physical, and environmental elements to things that throw sleep out of alignment. 

Get the lights out of the room to make sure it's dark and quiet. If you have back and neck pain start off the evening with a heat pack. Take a small blanket or thin pillow and put it under the bottom of your feet so that your feet are slightly elevated. You can get a bed that raises up and down. 

It is possible to have your feet too far raised, if this happens, things will slowly start stretching and overcompensation will happen. This will cause you to experience more stiffness. Some people ask about what kind of bed should buy-it has to be comfortable to you. The more firm the bed is the better option.  Your mattress is not supposed to conform to your body. I've never enjoyed a Tempurpedic bed. 

If your mattress is  too firm, unless you lay on your shoulder, then it can also cause issues. Try to get a bed where you can try it out before returning it. A lot of companies will allow you to try it out for 100 days with a guarantee, I recommend this. 

Do you have a recommended time of sleep? What about the quality of sleep?

The other part is what kind of pillow, which can be tricky. If your pillow is too firm, your head will be lifted, or if it's too soft, your head will lay too far back. There is such a thing as a water pillow that you can make as soft or as firm as you want, I like to recommend this. 

Everyone's neck has the exact same number of vertebrae, but everyone's neck is a different shape, so that's why I like the water pillows. These pillows are also machine washable. For those who are interested, it is called “Mediflow'', and they typically cost $60-$70. There are simple instructions and they work for 95% of patients.

What is one tip you would recommend to everyone to experience less nerve pain?

The way nerve pain works is you learn it, if you have an injury and don't address it, your brain will learn it. You have to get on top of it right away. It goes away initially in most cases, so then it isn't fixable-only manageable. In these cases, I recommend manipulation, massage, and adjustments, as well as heat at night. 

The best thing is to, at the first sign of flare-up, get in to get adjusted and address that pain. The quicker you get it taken care of, the better. 

What to know more or have a question of your own? Follow us on Instagram and join our weekly Live With Dr. Pete series.