How does your spine look? Is it balanced in all its natural curves, centered & mobile? If so, you most likely have very little to no signs of spinal degeneration.
Your chiropractor may have mentioned that you have degeneration in parts of your spine. Do you know why this happens? This article aims to clarify any questions may you have about how this occurs, why, and what to do about it.
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is the NATURAL response to an ABNORMAL amount of pressure in the spine. When our spine is out of alignment, the natural curves it was meant to have are no longer absorbing the gravity of our days efficiently. In response to the increased amount of pressure, the body starts to lay down more bone, decreasing joint space and becoming less mobile over time. This is a normal process of the body, but it is not necessarily a healthy outcome. Similar to the body storing fat when we eat too much food, it’s helpful because it saves that fuel for a later time. But it can be problematic because over time it can lead to increased health risks like cardiovascular disease and diabetes (Spalding et al., 2008). When it comes to DDD, the spine is adapting to the pressure, but compromising your mobility and strength.
You may have heard some people talk about their arthritis. What they are sometimes referring to is actually a degenerative joint process, also known as osteoarthritis. Arthritis is a bit of a misnomer for degenerative joint disease or DDD. There is a whole collection of systemic diseases that many people suffer from that are classified under arthritis (rheumatoid, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic, lupus, gout, and more). As mentioned, the medical community sometimes calls the degenerative process osteoarthritis, so this has been historically confusing to the public.
Osteoarthritis should not be confused with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the decreased AMOUNT of bone you have. This leads to lower bone density, whereas osteoarthritis is the process of the body laying down more bone to protect itself, typically due to instability or chronic pressure. Osteoporosis can occur with longstanding vitamin D deficiencies, malnutrition, and also long-term corticosteroid use. It is most commonly seen in older females (Lane, 2006).
Another common misunderstanding about DDD is that it is a normal process of aging. While it is a normal process that commonly occurs in your later years, it typically is not happening at the same rate. When we assess the structural integrity of the spine, we can see degenerative processes occurring at different rates throughout the spine. The degree of degeneration can depend on how long the misalignment has been present, the change of the natural curves, and lifestyle factors. With the new demand for technology use paired with more sedentary lifestyles, we are seeing 20-year-olds with degeneration you might expect to see in 60-year-olds.
While there may be some health professionals that think this is not a problem for your health, we believe your mobility and integrity of your spine are of great importance. Maintaining the structure that holds your nervous system will give your health the best chance to thrive in your later years. The perspective is yours to decide.
The body is designed to thrive. When your body is put under stress, it makes adaptations according to its environment. Many might think that this stress would solely come from big accidents or traumas, but it's most commonly from repetitive stresses like poor posture.
This can look like a forward head posture, slouched shoulders, pelvic tilt, leaning onto one hip, or a hunched appearance. Traumas to the spine happen throughout our lives, from falls when we were growing up to slips on the ice as a teenager. These have a compounding effect and can contribute to the degree of the poor postures we use daily.
Well, what about genetics? Many people mention to us that poor posture or even spinal degeneration runs in their family. When considering the mechanics of the spine, it’s important to factor in development. When we are developing and growing, we are absorbing everything around us, even the subtleties of movement. Although we may not easily identify how similar our walking and postures are to our family, this was a learned behaviour. This is why sometimes families can have similar degenerative patterns because they have similar repetitive stress patterns. This is part of the reason why we encourage children to receive chiropractic care, it greatly helps them thrive through their development milestones!
What to do about it
The very first thing you can do to move toward better spinal and nervous system health is to know your spine! Getting assessed by a chiropractor is a great way to know your health better. Our analysis is detailed and can involve x-ray images. These images will tell us how long the postural shift has been affecting you, as well as what degree of degeneration you have and where. While feeling into the spine and doing a postural analysis are important, the degree of degeneration is next to impossible to tell via feel alone. We are often surprised at the results that the x-ray images tell us! Things may be better than you think. Through specific adjustments and advanced techniques, your chiropractor can help balance out some of the pressure that's been accumulating on your spine.
When considering your health, the integrity of your spine and nervous system is vital. Your nervous system is your master control of all your body’s systems and having this in the best shape possible will give you a better chance to thrive. It took time for your body to learn and to develop in its current state, so it’s important to practice patience with the process. Your healing journey won’t be linear, but it will be worth it.
Yours in health,
Spalding, K. L., Arner, E., Westermark, P. O., Bernard, S., Buchholz, B. A., Bergmann, O., ... & Arner, P. (2008). Dynamics of fat cell turnover in humans. Nature, 453(7196), 783-787.
Lane, N. E. (2006). Epidemiology, etiology, and diagnosis of osteoporosis. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 194(2), S3-S11.
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