Blog 7: Sciatica and Upper Cervical Specific; plus, what does "Specific" mean?
Updated: May 1, 2021
When writing about conditions such as sciatica, it's important to reiterate that while the contact for the UC Specific adjustment is at the neck, it's not merely a neck adjustment -- it's a full-spine, full-body adjustment that from our clinical perspective, instantly clears the neurology, physiology and resets the structure of the body, assuming it's done correctly of course. As I've written before, Upper Cervical and chiropractic do not treat symptoms or conditions -- they restore function. And that actually gets us into the meaning of "Specific" but first let's talk about sciatica.
Sciatica is usually a very painful condition affecting the sciatic nerve -- the largest, thickest nerve in the body -- down one or both legs, accompanied by numbness and/or tingling. This is known as radiculopathy and occurs when a nerve is irritated, usually at the nerve roots or somewhere along its trajectory. If you've ever heard of the term "pinched nerve" this is what it's referring to.
Orthopedic tests, along with imaging, are performed to help evaluate the cause of sciatica. According to the medical literature sciatica is mostly caused by disc problems, such as herniations and protrusions. However, it can also result from degenerative conditions such as arthritis and stenosis, both of which can narrow the intervertebral foramen, or the small gaps between the vertebrae between which the nerves exit. Spondylolisthesis, which is a forward slipping of one vertebra on another, can also narrow these openings and create irritation. There are several types on spondylolisthesis with accompanying degrees of severity but it should be noted that when the slipping of a vertebra is caused by a fracture and the slip is of a grade 4 or 5, that issue is out of our scope and it's time to visit the orthopedic surgeon. However, muscles can also create irritation on the nerve itself, such as happens with piriformis syndrome. And, personally, I think it's this last possibility that is actually more responsible for sciatic problems than is accounted for.
So how can an adjustment performed at the neck affect a problem down the leg? Ultimately when we make the UC Specific adjustment, the biomechanics of the body are reset immediately. The brain re-takes control of the body, resetting and relaxing the muscle tone down the back and limbs. I tend to think that when sciatic relief happens immediately or within hours post-adjustment, that this is the best explanation for it. The tight and tonic muscles, including paraspinals and piriformis, relax, eliminating irritation on the nerves. However, as the muscles change the structure of the body and restore motion to the spine, this may also allow the discs and IVFs to decompress from years of stiffness and maladaptation which may explain how patients with disc problems find relief -- sometimes immediately, other times gradually over days and weeks.
All of this actually exemplifies the meaning of "Specific". Today, in the chiropractic world, "specific" has come to mean "precision"; contacting only the joint in question and moving it exactly in the direction intended, for example. And while, UC Specific certainly is precise and accurate and renowned for its extensive analysis, the word "Specific" was originally coined by the developer of chiropractic, B.J. Palmer, as the name of our technique and principle, as a noun more than an adjective.
In the mid-1920s, after years of unreliable results, Palmer had an inkling that there may be a single area of the spine that if adjusted correctly would unlock the rest and confirm the chiropractic principle established by his father that nerve pressure was the cause of all dis-ease. He set out to look for it and found it in the upper cervical spine, calling it "the Specific". Eventually, he settled on side-posture toggle-recoil as his preferred method of adjusting and this is all part of the name. Palmer would continue to espouse and champion the Upper Cervical Specific principle and technique as the most effective and reliable until his death in 1961. "Chiropractic is Specific or it is nothing', he'd say.
The Green Books chronicle the evolution of the profession from Palmer's point of view. In 1931 he presented the UC Specific principle to the profession in the landmark tome, The Subluxation Specific, the Adjustment Specific. And in describing the differences between the old styles of adjusting and the new "Specific" Hole-in-One, he wrote:
7. One ADJUSTMENT, one place, having a staying-put value ("the adjustment with that extra something") covering several days or weeks; rather than many "adjustments," many places, daily, few of which stay put 24 hours.
10. It proves that we can ADJUST less frequently ("the adjustment with that extra something") but more certainly, to consistently get case well once and for all; rather than jab away at many places daily, to get them well, sick again, well again, sick again -- maybe to ACCIDENTALLY get well or leave them permanently sick, where health was AN ACCIDENT in spite of us rather than because of us.
11. The normal right mixture of all above tells when not to ADJUST (the adjustment with that extra something); that a daily "adjustment" is injurious, and that it is actually dangerous to "adjust" so many places so frequently, when none was needed, demanded, or justified.
Here we see a developer repudiating all former evolutions of his own work. Such was the impression made and the difference in results achieved by the new discovery. Today, in Upper Cervical we say that "holding is healing" and that remains unchanged since the discovery of "the Specific".