Patients and doctors alike have the misconception that once the spine has degenerated - including disc degeneration, disc herniation and nerve damage -, you need surgery or are forced to live with pain, numbness/weakness and organ malfunction for the rest of your life. However this can’t be further from the truth. With specific chiropractic treatment protocols, the degenerative changes in the spine can actually be reversed. This fact as has been documented in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine and this ground-breaking information is important because:
- Degenerative processes in the spine can be asymptomatic, only producing signs and symptoms when it’s advanced. With chiropractic care, can we not only prevent degenerative diseases of the spine, but we can also reverse them.
- The word degeneration used to be closely associated with old age. Today, this isn’t the case. Due to our modern lifestyles, degeneration is now prevalent and affecting teenagers worldwide.
- The safety and effectiveness of chiropractic care is far superior to any type of surgery regarding degenerative diseases of the spine.
- Based on the above facts, if chiropractic can actually reverse degenerative changes in the spine, it is without a doubt that chiropractic needs to be incorporated in everyone's life.
how intervertebral discs degenerate
Intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers between each of the vertebrae by keeping the vertebrae separated when pressure is loaded onto the spine. They also play the crucial role of protecting the nerves that run down the middle of the spine and intervertebral discs. But because discs are made of 88% water, an upright adult spine can lose up to 20mm of vertical height each day due to the loss of fluid from the spinal discs. The sleep cycle allows the unloaded discs to regain most (but not all), of their fluid and height by the re-absorption of fluid surrounding the discs.
Since all the fluid and disc height is not regained, by the age of 30 our spine becomes shorter and by the time we are 60 years old, it’s not uncommon to actually lose up to 2 inches of height due to this loss of disc fluid. When the discs lose their height, the nerves which exit between the vertebrae and send vital messages to your body systems become more likely to be compressed.
In fact, a loss of only 12 percent of the water out of the spinal disc will reduce the disc height by 50 percent. It has been noted that the loss of 1mm of height in cervical disc and 1.4 mm loss of height in the lumbar disc will cause the same amount of neurological compression and nerve encroachment equal to an 8-degree rotation (misalignment) of the spine. The maintenance of proper disc heights is important, if people were to avoid chronic pain, numbness and tingling, loss of organ function and many other symptoms.
There are two main ways in which you can slow down the rate of disc degeneration:
Hydration is essential for nourishment, lubrication and function of all joint cartilages, tendons, ligaments and spinal discs’ nutrition delivery and elimination of waste. When the body is not properly hydrated, it first seeks to pull water out of the “white tissues”, meaning the ligaments, discs, tendons and joints of the body. Drinking water has so many health benefits but many people fail to do so. In fact drinking water is one of the 7 things you can do right now to transform your life.
Proper motion of the spinal joints are crucial as it promotes imbibition of the discs (the process of the disc reabsorbing water). The spine has 24 different bones and they are all joints. They are designed to move in a certain way. Once the joints of the spine stops moving properly, it loses it’s ability to imbibe causing rapid dehydration and degeneration of the discs. This is one key reason why sitting is the new smoking. A sedentary lifestyle coupled with postural degenerative condition accelerates the speed of disc degeneration. Therefore in order to preserve the disc spaces, it's important that we adopt an active lifestyle. Getting up from the desk every hour for a purposeful walk around the office will make all the difference.
Good hydration and living an active lifestyle are life-changing activities that you can incorporate today. However they will NOT reverse degeneration that have already taken place in your spine. To actually reverse degeneration, it takes a much more specific multi-modal treatment.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Spine Degeneration
Degeneration of the spine happens to all of us, it is a normal part of life and aging. However degeneration is only normal when we wear out evenly. All 24 different spinal bones have the same age, and if you have certain segments that are degenerating faster than others, this isn’t just because you are getting old. It’s time to address this fact and stop blaming your age. The truth is, there are cultures in the world where back pain hardly exists. One indigenous tribe in central India reported essentially zero reports of low back pain and showed very minor signs of degeneration as people aged. We suffer from accelerated and asymmetrical degeneration of the spine because we don't move. Because we don't drink enough water, and most importantly, because we never look after our posture and spine health.
Spine degeneration is a broad term and includes multiple conditions such as: disc herniation (slipped disc), spinal stenosis and schmorl’s nodes. But what makes degenerative changes in the spine much more dangerous is that they are oftentimes asymptomatic. As we frequently associate pain with health, most of us never put in the effort to have our spines checked. When in fact many degenerative conditions of the spine are largely preventable if we took care of our spines. Below are some of the most common signs and symptoms of spine degeneration:
1) asymptomatic (no symptoms)
2) localised or generalised pain/stiffness that persists
3) localised or generalised pain/stiffness without a specific mechanism of injury
4) Pain that radiates away down to the thighs/legs or arms/hands
5) Numbness/Tingling in the limbs
6) Burning Pain
8) Sensory changes
Chiropractic Treatment To Regenerate Disc Disease Of The Spine
Moving more and making sure that you are well hydrated are simple ways to try and prevent rapid degeneration of the spine. However in order to actually reverse the degenerative changes, chiropractic care must be incorporated in the treatment protocol. A chiropractor’s job is to find and correct misalignments of the spine (subluxations). This is crucial as subluxations lead to improper joint motion, increased pressure on the discs and nerve interference. When subluxations of the spine are properly corrected, you may be prescribed with specific traction exercises in order to restore the normal curves of the spine. See some of the before and after x-rays below:
The normal curve or alignment of the neck and low back is called lordosis and should curve backwards. Any misalignments out of this healthy normal alignment is known to put pressure on the nerves. A neurosurgeon, Alfred Brieg MD states that the “loss of cervical curve stretches the spinal cord 5 to 7cm and produces pathological tension.” Notice the restoration of the normal curve in both the neck and low back after corrective chiropractic care. These results are easily reproducible.
Another healthy “side-effect” of chiropractic adjustments is that specific adjustments can elicit and restore normal motion of the spinal joints. In fact chiropractic adjustments have been scientifically validated to not only restore motion but reduce inflammation and scar tissue in the affected areas.
If the spine is not in the right alignment, the affected joints will lose their normal motion. This quickly leads to rapid degeneration of the discs forcing it to lose water. This makes chiropractic adjustments are vital component in the healing process. Motion allows discs to re-absorb water from its surroundings via a processes called imbibition. This is one of the reason why health practitioners prescribe swimming or yoga for many spine-related conditions. However once the joints of the spine stops moving, gross movements produced by swimming or yoga, is never going to restore the affected joints back to normal. The normal function and motion of affected spinal joints can only be resuscitated by specific chiropractic adjustments. Aside from chiropractic adjustments, chiropractors may suggest the following exercises:
Swiss ball (exercise ball or physio ball) is a versatile piece of exercise equipment available to help people with many conditions including low back pain. Many exercise ball programs work by creating controlled spinal motion which in turn leads to the nourishment of discs. As discussed above, spinal motion helps nourish and regenerate the discs in the spine by increasing blood flow around the discs and by causing the water to flow in and out of the disc.
2. Wobble Chair
The wobble chair works on the same premise as the swiss ball, but they become much more relevant for office workers. By providing the loading and unloading cycles to the discs, the discs are able to restore their fluid content despite working in a sitting position for many hours. Sitting is the new smoking and wobble chairs are a great way to prevent and diminish all the potential health risks imposed on from prolonged sitting.
Clinical Results Of Patients Suffering From DDD After Chiropractic Care
A group of patients were selected for a study that was featured in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine based on their medical history of lumbar herniated or bulging discs verified by previous MRI/CT scans, history of paraesthesia in one or both lower extremities, pain levels reported as a minimum of 8/10 and/or history of sciatica or other radicular findings. After undergoing the treatment protocol as mentioned above, all patients showed positive and statistically significant outcomes in radiographic disc heights, functional rating index, numeric pain rating, spirometry, and patient height. Here are a before and after x-ray finding presented in the study:
As you grow older, become more sedentary and develop advancing spinal and postural degenerative conditions, your spine will lose the normal alignment and segmental motion of the joints. Once this happens, the discs will rapidly lose its heights and cause nerve encroachment. Chronic pain syndromes and spine-related organ problems are avoidable. Do the exercises, move more, drink more water, but most importantly, go and see a chiropractor.