Nerves and Muscles

Is it safe for me to ride a stationary bike if I have sciatica?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have sciatica. Is it safe for me to ride a stationary bike for exercise?

DEAR READER: Sciatica is persistent pain felt along the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the lower back, down through the buttock and into the lower leg. Pain results when this nerve is compressed or injured. It most commonly results from inflammation, bone chips caused by arthritis, or a herniated ("slipped") disk in the lower spine.

I strained my hip flexor — how can I relieve the pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've strained a muscle where my hip meets my pelvis. What can I do to relieve the discomfort?

DEAR READER: It sounds like you've strained your hip flexor. That's a group of muscles that runs from your lower back to the front of your thigh. These muscles help flex your hip when you lift your leg to the front. A hip flexor strain can lead to pain where your thigh meets your pelvis, as well as pain or pinching when you pull your knee to your chest or when you climb stairs.

What is a “sliding hernia”?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My mother was recently diagnosed with a "sliding hernia." What is this?

DEAR READER: A "sliding hernia" is a type of hiatal hernia. OK, so what's a hiatal hernia? A hernia occurs when part of an organ juts through an opening into an area where it shouldn't. The stomach is an organ that is supposed to stay in the abdomen, for example. The abdomen is separated from the chest by a flat, dish-like plate of muscle called the diaphragm.

What is Bell’s palsy?

´╗┐DEAR DOCTOR K: I went to my doctor with some alarming symptoms and he diagnosed me with Bell's palsy. I don't know anything about this condition.

DEAR READER: Bell's palsy, named after the person who first reported it in the medical journals, Charles Bell, is a weakness of the muscles on one side of the face. All muscles in your body take their orders from nerves leading to them. When you think of muscles, you probably think of the big, bulky muscles in your arms and legs. But there are small muscles in your face as well.

Can you tell me about my treatment options for relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was recently diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Can you tell me about my treatment options?

DEAR READER: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disabling illness that affects the brain and spinal cord and worsens over time. MS damages nerve cells and a substance that is wrapped around the nerve cells, called myelin. A nerve cell functions like a copper wire -- it transmits electrical signals. Myelin is like the insulation surrounding a wire. It helps the electrical signal get transmitted down the nerve cell. When myelin is damaged, that transmission is interrupted.

What causes peripheral neuropathy and what can I do about it?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have peripheral neuropathy. I know that people with diabetes often get neuropathy, but I'm not diabetic. What else can cause this condition? And what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: Neuropathy is a medical term that means nerve damage. The type of nerve damage that people with diabetes get involves specific nerve fibers in all nerves, particularly the nerves that travel to the legs and feet. (There are other conditions in which a single nerve leading to the legs and feet is pinched, causing pain. An example is what is often called a "slipped disk" or "herniated disk" in the lower part of the spine).

How is an ankle-brachial index test done and what will it tell my doctor?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I had some pain in my leg while exercising, and now my doctor wants to do an ankle-brachial index test. How is it done? And what will it tell him?

DEAR READER: Atherosclerosis stiffens and clogs our arteries. It attacks the coronary arteries that provide blood to the heart muscle and causes heart attacks. It also attacks the arteries of the brain, causing strokes. Atherosclerosis also often affects the peripheral arteries of the legs. When we exercise our leg muscles, they can reach the point where we're asking them to work harder than their blood supply allows.

Beginner balance training exercises

As I discussed in a recent column, balance exercises are important for one simple reason: Poor balance can cause falls. Below are two beginner balance exercises. They are a good first step toward improving shaky balance and can be done by people of many ages and abilities, including those who are elderly or frail.

Why are balance exercises important as we age?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 70 and regularly do cardiovascular and weight-training exercises. Now my doctor wants me to add balance exercises to my routine. Why?

DEAR READER: You've asked a good question, and it has a simple answer: Poor balance can cause falls. Every year, one in three adults 65 or older falls at least once. Especially in older people, falls can be serious. More than 90 percent of hip fractures result from falls. Falls also often lead to fractures of the spine, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm and hand. These injuries can undermine your independence. Hip fractures, in particular, also can increase the risk for early death.