Q. I’ve been suffering from sciatica and back pain and a friend has suggested seeing a chiropractor. Does it work – and, as a GP, would you recommend it?
A. Lower back pain and sciatica are very common reasons for people to attend a GP consultation. While both conditions can resolve on their own over time, there are a number of treatment options that can help to provide relief in the interim.
Pain-relief options include medication, physiotherapy and heat treatments. And, of course, a number of alternative treatments are available. One that’s reasonable to try in this case is acupuncture, which may offer relief and relaxation from pain, with very little likelihood of harm.
The success of it as a treatment for back pain is not thought to be substantial – and a large number of people will suffer short-term pain, dizziness, headaches and numbness due to nerve damage (stock image)
Indeed, this is the key issue whenever approaching alternative treatments that aren’t scientifically proven to help – they’re only worth trying if there’s no risk of harm.
Chiropractic treatment involves spinal manipulation and stretching – and it may help back pain in some people. However, the chiropractic community is notorious for spurious declarations about what it can cure and has been strongly reprimanded over the years for claiming to treat conditions such as asthma, colic and ear infections.
The founder of chiropractic treatment wrongly believed that all ailments can be alleviated with spinal manipulation, and this false panacea notion persists today among some practitioners.
But more than just false claims, chiropractic treatment, even when limited to back pain, does carry serious risks. The success of it as a treatment for back pain is not thought to be substantial – and a large number of people will suffer short-term pain, dizziness, headaches and numbness due to nerve damage.
One new analysis suggests the level of risk of drinking while pregnant is small, yet you should probably avoid it anyway (stock image)
More worryingly, there are also far more damaging effects from the thrusting spinal movements. This is because around the spinal area being manipulated, there are blood vessels that pass by on their way to the brain.
Published medical literature has warned how stretching and damage to these vessels has led to permanent brain damage, stroke and disability. At least 30 deaths have been recorded – with experts believing there are many more unreported cases. Weighing up the small potential benefit to be gained from chiropractic treatment, I would not recommend it, given the potential risks of stroke or spinal injury.
DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR DR ELLIE?
Email DrEllie@mailonsunday.co.uk or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT.
Dr Ellie can only answer in a general context and cannot respond to individual cases, or give personal replies.
If you have a health concern, always consult your own GP.
Q. Every year, I suffer severe night sweats as soon as the weather gets colder. I’ve tried changing my duvet and nightwear, but nothing helps. The only time I don’t suffer is on the rare occasion I have a few drinks. Should I be worried? I’m 37, fit and healthy.
A. Night sweats are what GPs call a ‘red flag’ symptom: something that warrants urgent investigation. This is justified, as night sweats can be a sign of serious infections such as TB, and cancers, specifically Hodgkin’s lymphoma. GPs should offer blood tests and a chest X-ray to rule these out. Other conditions associated with night sweats include anxiety and thyroid disease.
But if night sweats have persisted for a long time, particularly a number of years, doctors become less concerned – especially if there are no further symptoms. It’s also reassuring when a symptom comes and goes, as symptoms of a serious illness would persist all the time.
Alcohol is more likely to cause sweating as it causes blood – and therefore heat – to flow to the skin.
For those with a long-running issue, medical treatments may be suitable. These include Botox, which is injected into the affected areas, blocking the chemical signals from the nerves that stimulate the sweat glands.
Don’t die of embarrassment – or let your partner die of embarrassment – was the message last week after a survey from charity the Eve Appeal found that many men can’t talk to their partners about intimate matters. More than 21,000 women each year are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer, yet half of men surveyed said they would not be comfortable discussing these issues with a female partner. It’s crucial that none of us ignore so-called embarrassing ailments and discuss any bodily changes we see in ourselves, or our other half. All too often, these are the ones that need to be discussed early and investigated.
Barely a week goes by without yet more confusing health advice about pregnancy – usually relating to alcohol. One new analysis suggests the risk from levels is small, yet you should probably avoid it anyway. As one of my patients pointed out, that’s exactly what she’d already been told. This constant flurry of advice only fuels anxiety and confusion.
TESSA CAN SWAY BRAIN CANCER MANIFESTO
This week in The Mail on Sunday you can read my guide to cutting your risk of the two most common cancers, of the breast and prostate.
But sadly, when it comes to relatively rare forms of the disease such as brain cancer – which Labour peer Dame Tessa Jowell revealed she was battling last week – the risk factors and causes are far less clear-cut.
In five per cent of cases, there’s thought to be a genetic link, but really there are so many unknowns. Brain cancer covers a whole range of tumour types, from the slow-growing which require little intervention, to the aggressive and fatal.
As with pancreatic cancer, little progress has been made in reducing the death rate.
Tessa announced it via her daughter-in-law ‘Deliciously’ Ella Woodward’s social media accounts on her 70th birthday – but didn’t reveal which kind she had. Tessa’s an influential figure and perhaps her diagnosis will highlight how much more research (and funding for it) is needed into these tumours.