Spinal degeneration occurs naturally as we age with the normal grind of daily living. The discs naturally break down forming arthritic type changes. The joints start to decay, calcification builds up, and the discs lose their ability to absorb shock. Sounds very similar to tooth decay right? Well you know if you don’t continually take care of your teeth with brushing, flossing, rinsing and periodically seeing a dentist, the process occurs more rapidly.
Spinal degeneration can occur at every level of the spine: the neck or cervical spine, mid back and lower or lumbar spine. You might not notice the pain at first but as it progresses more pain is felt. You can also notice restricted motion and reduced ability to perform normal activities. Almost half of the population aged 40 years or older experiences pain from spinal degeneration. After 80 years old about 80 percent of the population suffers with this condition.
Studies have shown risk factors of spinal degeneration. By limiting these factors and promoting spinal hygiene, we can reduce degeneration and improve quality of life, especially as we age.
From 1997 to 2007, 197 individuals were studied every 2 years using xrays to measure disc heights in the lumbar spine. It was found disc heights decreased at each level gradually over the years on average of 5.8%. The likelihood of disc degeneration increased more in females, those who had knee osteoarthritis and those who had back pain at the start of the study.
Another study shows that smoking cigarettes increases disc degeneration, weakening of spinal ligaments and spinal instability. Evidence suggests that the severity of degeneration is worse in smokers than non smokers. Smoking causes physiological changes that increases the spinal decay.
A study in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association shows the benefit of manual therapy on osteoarthritic knee pain. After just 2 weeks, those receiving manual therapy for 3 times per week for 2 weeks experienced less pain, improved movement and ability to perform general activities which were previously more difficult.
Other risk factors that increase spinal degeneration and back pain are:
- Occupation hazards: If you do a lot of bending, lifting or long periods of sitting and standing without breaks.
- Genetics: There is some evidence that there is some inherited component
- Sedentary lifestyle: Those not active without regular exercise have higher risk of back pain and severity of pain.
- Excessive weight: Weight increases stress on the joints, ligaments, tendons and discs
- Poor posture: Slouching, sitting at a computer, texting and other modern technology, driving hunched, bad sleeping positions and lifting things improperly or just some things that increase stress to the spinal segments.
- Hydration: 80% of your body is water. Most people are dehydrated which leads to tissues being “dried out”. Think of a sponge that you leave on the counter for an extended period without putting water on it, it will dry out and becomes brittle. Your muscles, tendons, ligaments and discs are similiar and become more fragile.
Spinal degeneration can be reduced and prevented with spinal hygiene. I describe it like dental hygiene as previously mentioned in this article. It’s very important to limit the risks listed above. Work on your posture, keep active with exercise, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, stretch regularly while at work, use proper form lifting and bending, and keep properly hydrated (drink half your body weight in water) and limit products that contain caffeine like coffee or energy drinks as caffeine leads to dehydration.
Most importantly go to a Chiropractor to help keep your joints moving and aligned. Chiropractic adjustments remove back pain and help reduce risk factors of spinal degeneration. Unlike tooth decay where you can replace your teeth, you are born with one spine that cannot be replaced!
In our Freehold chiropractic office, we use a combination of adjustments, therapeutic stretching and exercises to get you the full benefits of care in preventing spinal degeneration. Let us help you live a long, healthy, active lifestyle!