Joint pain is a common complaint, often prompting patients to seek medical care. When joints, the places where bones meet in order to facilitate movement, get out of alignment, several painful conditions can result. Joint misalignment affects both muscles and nerves, often resulting not only in localized pain, but in radicular pain, pain that runs down the adjacent limb. Although any joint can move out of its correct position, the joints that most often bring patients in for treatment are the facet joints of the back, the sacroiliac (SI) joints and the temporomandibular joints (TMJ).
Integrative Medicine Care for Facet Joint Pain
Each vertebra has four facet joints connecting it to the vertebrae above and below it that allow the spine to move smoothly. When the facet joints are subluxated, or misaligned, perhaps due to spinal stenosis or arthritis, compression of adjacent spinal nerves can result in severe pain. Depending on the location of the facet joint, pain may occur in the cervical region (neck), the lumbar (lower back) or may radiate down the arm or leg.
In order to treat facet joint pain, chiropractors normally adjust the entire spine, not only the affected area. By making adjustments, they relieve compression of adjacent nerves and allow blood and oxygen to flow more freely, promoting healing. For patients with chronic problems, they may make postural and ergonomic recommendations, prescribe certain exercises, advise the patient to get supportive orthotics, or even suggest replacing a worn-out mattress.
Sacroiliac Joint Pain
The sacroiliac joint may subluxate for a number of reasons, including sports injuries, falls, and other accidents. Pregnancy or menstruation can make an individual more susceptible to such injury, as can bending or standing in one position for a prolonged period. Pain caused by misalignment of the SI joint may be felt in the lower back, the buttocks and down the leg (sciatic pain), the groin or hip, and may be accompanied by numbness or tingling.
In order to treat SI joint pain, the chiropractor may use one of two techniques of adjustment: traditional spinal manipulation that consists of high-velocity, low-amplitude (HVLA) thrusts or spinal mobilization, a gentler approach, involving low-velocity, low-amplitude thrusts. The method chosen depends on the nature of the injury and the age and condition of the patient.
Temporomandibular Joint Pain
The temporomandibular joints are the joints that hinge the jaw. These joints can dislocate because of an underlying disease condition, a traumatic injury, or the grinding or clenching of the teeth. Stress is often a contributing cause of this disorder. TMJ, initials that refer to the condition as well as to the joint itself, can result in tenderness in the face, neck, ear, head, jaw, neck or shoulders. It can also make it difficult to open the mouth widely, cause odd sounds when the jaw opens or closes, or result in difficulty chewing.
In addition to manual adjustments and massage of the jaw, integrative medical care for TMJ includes first ice and then heat therapy, instruction concerning actions that may worsen the condition, such as opening the mouth too widely or crunching hard foods. Stretching and strengthening exercises may be recommended. In some cases, the patient may be advised to get a mouthguard to prevent teeth grinding during sleep.
Other Integrative Medicine Treatments for Joint Pain
In addition to the various manual adjustments chiropractors use to alleviate joint pain, they may use one or more of the following:
- Ice or heat therapy
- Ultrasound therapy
- Electrical stimulation
- Deep muscle massage
- Trigger point therapy
- Applied kinesiology
Chiropractors may also recommend lifestyle changes to help relieve pain and prevent further injury.