Dr. Jeffrey I. Kennis,  D.C.
205 Commercial St.
Boston, MA 02109

( 617)720-2329




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Posts for: July, 2019

Sciatica pain is a symptom that signals an underlying medical issue. It often shows up as:

  • A sharp or electric-shock sensation that runs down one side of your body, down your buttock, behind your thigh and calf;
  • Weakness or numbness in your leg, foot, or toes; and/or
  • Pain that worsens when you transition from a seated position to standing and/or walking.

See Sciatica Symptoms

Animated gif showing pain radiating on the path of the sciatic nerve

The term sciatica refers to symptoms of pain, numbness, and/or weakness that radiate along the sciatic nerve. Sciatica often results from lower back disorders between the L4 and S1 levels that cause irritation to a lumbar nerve root. Watch: Sciatica Overview Video

What’s causing your sciatica? One of these 3 problems might be the culprit:

See Back Muscles and Low Back Pain

1. Herniated disc

A herniated disc in the lumbar spine, sometimes called a slipped disc or bulging disc, is a common cause of sciatica pain.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc: What You Should Know

A disc acts as a cushion between your vertebrae. A herniation occurs when a disc’s tough exterior breaks and its gelatinous inner contents (nucleus pulposus) leak out. Sometimes this material gets into the space that is only supposed to be occupied by nerves. When it pushes against your nerves, inflammation—and pain—occurs.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc Symptoms

Though sciatica pain from a herniated disc may feel sudden, it typically is the result of gradual wearing-down of your disc from daily repetitive movements and not necessarily triggered by a specific trauma. However, an accident or sudden injury—caused by lifting furniture or shoveling snow, for example—is enough to herniate a disc. Not everyone who has a lumbar herniated disc experiences symptoms.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc: Causes and Risk Factors

2. Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is often the source of sciatica pain. It occurs when one vertebra slips forward over the vertebra directly underneath it. This slippage may happen because of a fracture or other spinal instability.

See Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis can be caused by a sudden event, such as a fall or some other accident, but in most cases, it occurs gradually from cumulative stress as the joints in your spine degenerate over time.

See Isthmic Spondylolisthesis

The majority of people who have spondylolisthesis don’t show symptoms. People who do experience symptoms often report a sharp or burning pain that radiates down their buttocks and legs, and their legs may feel tired and/or tingly. Sitting in a reclining position often helps ease the pain from spondylolisthesis.

See Degenerative Spondylolisthesis Symptoms

3. Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is another possible suspect for what’s causing your sciatica pain. This condition involves the narrowing of the spaces in your spine that nerves travel through. If these spaces get too cramped, they put pressure on your nerves, triggering sciatica pain.

See What Is Spinal Stenosis?

People with spinal stenosis are typically comfortable when they rest but cannot walk far without developing leg pain. Pain relief is achieved, sometimes immediately, when they sit down again.

See Spinal Stenosis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Spinal stenosis can occur in either the cervical or lumbar spine. Only lumbar spinal stenosis is responsible for sciatica pain. This condition is related to the degeneration of the spine, so it’s more commonly found in people who are middle-aged or older.

See Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

This list isn’t exhaustive; several underlying conditions can cause sciatic and sciatica-like pain. To find a treatment that’s effective for you, talk to a doctor for a clinical diagnosis.

See Sciatica Treatment

Learn more:

What You Need to Know About Sciatica

Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica

If you struggle with not getting enough sleep at night, you may have considered adding a nap to your daily schedule.

man with insomnia

Individuals with chronic pain frequently report trouble falling asleep and staying asleep at night. 
 Chronic Pain As a Disease: Why Does It Still Hurt?

We are here to help, so read on to learn more about whether napping during the day is a good idea


The benefits of a power nap

Some people simply do not have the opportunity to get 8 hours of sleep each night. For example, if you recently had a child you may be lucky to get 4 to 6 hours of sleep.

In this case, you may benefit from a 20 to 30 minute power nap during the day. A short power nap may provide:

  • Enhanced concentration and alertness
  • Enhanced recollection
  • Improved stress-coping levels
  • Increased stamina
  • Sharpened motor skills

So then, a short power nap may provide the needed boost to get you through your day.

See How to Power Nap at Work

If you want to give power napping a try, make sure to find a quiet space where you won't be interrupted, and limit your nap to 30 minutes. Any longer and you may wake up feeling more tired and less alert.

See Psychological Techniques, Sleep Environment, and Better Sleep

The importance of good sleep hygiene

Practicing good sleep hygiene means that you engage in habits that are conducive to sleep on a nightly basis. These habits include:

  • Avoiding the use of electronics in the bedroom
  • Limiting your intake of caffeine
  • Engaging in a relaxing activity before bed

See Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

In addition, maintaining a consistent bedtime and wakeup time are often key elements of good sleep hygiene. If your sleep at night is poor, you may try an extended daily nap (2 to 3 hours). However, the more often you take long naps during the day, the more likely this will interfere with your ability to fall asleep at the same time each night. This can start a vicious cycle of poor sleep, more napping, and poorer sleep.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that each person and situation is unique. For example, one person might feel energized after taking a power nap at lunch, and at night they may also find that it does not affect their sleep.

See 11 Unconventional Sleep Tips: How to Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep

But another person could discover that a daily nap makes it harder for them to fall asleep each night, and so it is ultimately counterproductive. Therefore, whether or not it is a good idea for you to nap during the day ultimately comes down to a process of trial and error.

Learn more:

Additional Factors That Affect Sleep Comfort

Natural Remedies and Herbal Supplements as Sleep A

Recent news reports about a 2018 study1 have made claims that younger people who are excessively looking down at phone and tablet screens may be causing their skulls to sprout "horns." These reports have generated plenty of discussion on social media and at office water coolers, but the study does not have strong data to support the claims. Besides, the aforementioned "horns" are actually bone spurs on the external occipital protuberance at the base of the skull, which we all have to some degree.

Watch: Cervical Spine Anatomy Video

Image of businesswoman taking phone call in busy office

Although bone spurs on the external occipital protuberance are unlikely to cause symptoms, poor posture is known to contribute to neck and back pain. Read: How Poor Posture Causes Neck Pain

While bone spurs on the external occipital protuberance are unlikely to cause symptoms, poor posture is known to contribute to neck and back pain in many people. Whether you have text neck from spending hours looking down at a phone, or have forward head posture from too much time hunched over a computer, these poor habits are not good for your spine. To reduce the risk for developing neck or back pain from poor posture, consider these tips.

See Forward Head Posture’s Effect on Neck Muscles

1. Remember to use good posture.

Some ideas to help maintain good posture throughout the day include:

  • Keep your head in neutral position. When sitting or standing, keep your shoulders back and the ears directly over the shoulders. This neutral position keeps the head better balanced atop the spine with less stress on the muscles and joints.
    Watch: Video: 6 Tips to Improve Posture While Sitting
  • Consider your workstation setup. When sitting at a computer, your monitor should be at eye level, elbows at your sides and bent about 90° with the keyboard easily within reach, and both feet flat on the ground. Some people may need to make adjustments to their workstation, such as by using a different office chair or getting a monitor stand.
    See Office Chair: How to Reduce Back Pain?
  • Raise your phone closer to eye level. When reading or sending messages on a phone, more stress is placed on the spine if the neck is bent looking down at a table or your lap. If you keep your phone up closer to eye level, the neck doesn’t need to bend forward so much.
    See Text Neck Treatment and Prevention

Breaking bad habits can be challenging at first. It might help to set automatic reminders throughout the day to check your posture.

See Posture to Straighten Your Back

2. Take breaks.

Our spines were meant to move. If you have a desk job or a project that requires computer work, try to take a break every hour for at least a few minutes. Get up and go for a short walk, or try some light stretches for the neck and back. Taking regular breaks from looking at a screen is also good for the eyes and may reduce eyestrain.

Watch: 4 Easy Stretches for Neck and Shoulder Pain Video

Some people may also benefit from an adjustable standing desk. Too much sitting or standing can be hard on the spine and body in general, but switching things up for part of the day can help some people. An adjustable standing desk is not for everyone, so try to test standing and working before buying one. Some people may also want to first try a portable desk riser, which tend to cost less.

See Workplace Ergonomics and Neck Pain

3. Exercise regularly.

It is important to keep your neck and back strong and flexible to help reduce the risk for developing pain and stiffness. Staying active can keep the muscles in shape, such as by regularly hiking, playing sports, swimming, doing yardwork, and other physical activities.

Watch: 3 Easy Neck Exercises for Neck Pain Video

Exercises and stretches that focus on the neck, chest, and core muscles can help the body hold healthy posture throughout the day. If you haven’t exercised in a while or are already dealing with neck or back pain, it can help to have a trained health professional—such as a physiatrist or physical therapist—design an exercise program to meet your individual goals. Also, if a particular exercise worsens your pain, stop it and check with your doctor.

See Neck Strengthening Exercises

In the meantime, it’s fine to continue using and benefiting from modern technology while remembering to use good posture, take breaks, and stay active.

Learn more:

Summer is a time for swimming, travel, and get-togethers with family and friends. The last thing you want is for your back pain to throw a wrench into everything.

Image of businesswoman taking phone call in busy office

Water therapy is a great low impact aerobic exercise to help alleviate back pain during the summer months. See Water Therapy Exercise Program

Try these 6 suggestions to enjoy the great outdoors without the hassles:

  1. Warm up first. If you haven't been active lately, it's best to start gradually. Do some slow stretches or take a short walk before joining that basketball game or digging up those overgrown bushes you've been meaning to get to.
    Watch Video: Why is Exercise Important for Lower Back Pain?
  2. Make a splash. Water's buoyancy is a boon for your back. It not only eases lower back compression, it allows greater range of motion without the risk of falling. Warm water has the added benefit of relieving stiffness and relaxing tight muscles, which can aggravate back pain.
    See Water Therapy Exercises
  3. Skip the flip-flops. Flip-flops and flats offer little support, putting stress on your back. Sandals can be a better way to keep cool. Look for styles that hold your feet securely—no slipping from side to side or forward and back.
    See Why Flip-Flops Are Bad for Your Sciatica
    Cushioning is also important. Soles with a shock-absorbing material such as cork are likely to be easier on your back than a rubber sole. Sandals designed for outdoor sports, hiking, or river rafting are often more stable and have better arch support than other sandals. If you've still got your heart set on shoes that provide little support, do your back a favor and wear them only on special occasions.
  4. Pace yourself. It's easy to overdo it when you're enjoying a summer day. Low-impact exercises such as walking and bicycling are good options, but you may need to take a lot of breaks if you've been sedentary. Remember that any exercise is better than none, and don't try to push past the pain.
    See Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise
  5. Be prepared when you travel. Whether you're driving or flying, bring along an extra seat cushion, a disposable heat patch, or an instant cold pack in case your pain flares up. If you're headed to another state, keep any opioid painkillers in their original prescription containers. (State laws on opioids vary.) Pack a little extra medication in case your return is delayed. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules on flying with medications are outlined and the TSA answers questions on Facebook’s messaging service.
    See Taking Painkillers? Plan Ahead Before You Travel
  6. Stay hydrated. Getting enough water is important for your overall health, and your spine is no exception. Spinal discs need to be well-hydrated to stay strong and flexible, so keep that water bottle in reach.
    See Lifestyle and Diet Tips for Healthy Bones

A little planning ahead can help things go more smoothly this summer, despite your back pain.

Learn more:

Airplane travel can expose you to uncomfortable positions and prolonged periods of stationary sitting, causing neck pain. Try these 7 tips to avoid neck pain next time you fly.

Image of businesswoman taking phone call in busy office

Long airplane trips can be daunting for people with back or neck pain. Luckily there are several tips that can help reduce or avoid pain and discomfort while traveling. Read Water Therapy Exercise Program

1. Pack over-the-counter medication

Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (e.g., Aleve), can help reduce inflammation and lessen pain from a stiff, sore neck. Pack this medication in your carry-on luggage, making it easy to access if your neck starts to hurt during the flight. Or if you’re already dealing with chronic neck pain, consider taking the medication an hour before your flight so it gets in your system prior to takeoff.

See NSAIDs: Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

These medications carry risks and possible side effects, so check with a doctor or pharmacist before use.

2. Use a travel neck pillow

The cramped space of an airplane can leave you susceptible to incorrect posture. Laying your head on the tray table or leaning against the window, for example, can lead to neck strain and muscle stiffness.

A travel-sized neck pillow can help keep your neck straight and upright during the flight, minimizing the painful effects of incorrect posture. One popular option is a scarf-like wrap that features a supportive brace inside the fabric. Wearing this pillow allows you to comfortably lean to one side without bending your neck too far.

See Pillow Types to Consider

3. Relax

Plan ahead for some enjoyable, relaxing activities that can help take your mind off the pain. Listen to soothing music or an interesting podcast on your smartphone. Bring a novel or magazine to read and stimulate your mind. Think about your vacation destination and all the fun activities you look forward to doing there.

4. Get up and walk around

Holding a sedentary position for several hours can lead to neck pain—and lower back pain, too. You may find some relief by walking up and down the aisle when the pilot turns off the seatbelt sign. Changing positions and keeping your body loose can help reduce the muscle tightness caused by sitting in an uncomfortable position.

5. Stretch it out

Stretching can help ease neck stiffness, loosening tight muscles and restoring the neck to a more natural range of motion. You can perform many simple, effective neck stretches while you sit in your seat. It is recommended you practice stretches you learned from a qualified health professional, such as a physical therapist.

See 4 Easy Stretches for Neck and Shoulder Pain Video

6. Try a self-massage tool

You may find neck pain relief by using a handheld self-massage device while on the airplane (if the device is battery operated, check with the airline ahead of time to see if it is allowed onto the flight). A tennis ball can also be used as a self-massage tool and fits easily in a purse or laptop bag.

See Trigger Point Exercises for Neck Pain

Some airports have a massage therapy business on site, where you can hire a massage therapist to help relax your neck before or after a long flight.

7. Apply heat and/or cold therapy

Heat therapy encourages blood flow, reducing stiffness and allowing the neck to heal. You can use a disposable heat wrap, for example, which you can put on the back of your neck before your flight. Some people prefer cold therapy for neck pain relief. Consider packing plastic bags, which you can ask a flight attendant to fill with ice so you can make an ice pack.

See How to Apply Heat Therapy

Try some or all of these tips the next time you travel on an airplane. Hopefully these ideas help prevent neck pain, so you can have a more enjoyable flight.

Learn more: