Truths & Myths About Degeneration And What The Future Holds - Is Degeneration Really Due To Old Age?

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Joint Degeneration Is Not Due To Old Age

Degeneration is a normal part of life but claiming that degeneration is due to old age is pure ignorance. When someone suffers from knee pain, especially with ascending or descending stairs, it's immediately labelled as osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition of the knee joints.

But is it really due to old age?

You have two identical knees, they have the same age and they walk the same amount of steps in your life. Assuming everything else is equal (ie. no history of trauma to one knee), we would expect both knees to degenerate evenly. But in most cases, this is not true. Patients with osteoarthritis commonly experience one-sided knee pain at onset, then develop pain on the other knee over time due to gait compensation and altered biomechanics.

A study claims that "among adults 60 years of age or older the prevalence of symptomatic knee OA is approximately 10% in men and 13% in women (1)." If only a tenth of the elderly population suffers from knee pain, how can we blame old age? What about the remaining ninth of the elderly population without OA?

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To make things clear, osteoarthritis of the knees is a complex conditions with many variables and contributing factors such as age, gender (women are more affected than males), obesity, history of knee injury, repetitive use of knee joints, bone density, muscle weakness and joint laxity. Degeneration of the knees is just an example, the point I'm trying to make is that age and the ageing process is commonly blamed for our health conditions.

Why? Because it's easy and nobody holds responsibility! 

It becomes more palatable for both patients and health practitioners when we think that it is “normal” and that suffering is just a normal part of life and aging. Nobody did anything wrong. But the truth is that aging is just a contributing factor and never plays decisive role in one's health and wellbeing. 

 

 

Degeneration of the Spine (AGING)

Is degeneration really due to old age? Take a look at the x-rays below. It's a time-series neck x-ray of the same person (notice the identical neck alignment over the three X-rays).

 LATERAL CERVICAL X-rays of a same person over time. The patient is facing left. Note that a 40-45 backwards curve is needed for it to be a healthy cervical alignment.

LATERAL CERVICAL X-rays of a same person over time. The patient is facing left. Note that a 40-45 backwards curve is needed for it to be a healthy cervical alignment.

There are seven different bones in the cervical spine and they are joints just like our knees and elbows. Now take a closer look at C5, C6 and C7 located at the lower part of the cervical (neck) spine. Over time, the disc spaces have significantly closed down (degenerative disc disease) and the bones have changed their shapes and developed osteophytes (degenerative joint disease). They have severely degenerated. What most people don’t get is that all of the seven bones have the same age!

So, if all the seven bones of the neck lived the same amount of years (ie. all the vertebrae have the same age), why is it that only the lower bones/joints have severely degenerated while the upper bones didn't change at all? Common sense tells us that the damages present at C5/C6/C7 simply cannot be due to old age. If it were, the upper bones would have changed too. Think about that for a second. 

Another good example is cognitive function. According to Psychology Today, it was "assumed that cognitive performance declined substantially as a part of normal ageing. However, recent research suggests that is not the case...". Dr Maxwell Maltz writes in his book Psycho-Cybernetics: “the latest findings show that a man reaches his peak mentally somewhere around the age of 35 and maintains the same level until well past 70.” The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a proven nonsense and yet, it still pervades the minds of both patients and clinicians today.

Despite the bad reputation, ageing is not a significant factor in degenerative conditions. It's just a way of consoling the patients for their suffering AND the clinicians for inadequacy their inability to be of any service. Blaming age is pure escapism.

If degeneration is NOT due to old age, then why does this happen? 

 

 

Use It Or Lose It

Ever heard of the phrase "use it or lose it"? It's a common phrase used in psychology to describe the best way to offset various cognitive problems that come with ageing. Worried about dementia? Start learning new skills and get your mind active! The same principle applies to your joints. Joints that are misaligned leads to abnormal joint motion which in turn will degenerate at an alarming rate. Simply put, if a joint is not being used, you will start to lose it. In the case of the above x-rays there are two reasons why the C5/C6/C7 joints degenerated prematurely: 

1) the loss of cervical lordosis (misalignment of the neck spine) caused fixation of C5/C6/C7 joints and, 

2) the loss of cervical lordosis along with forward head posture (What Is Forward Head Posture?) put both abnormal and excessive pressure on C5/C6/C7 joints, which led to premature degeneration of the affected structures. 

Degeneration is not due to old age but the duration of time how long the joint(s) have ceased to function correctly. The difference is subtle but I will say it again, degeneration is not due to old age but how long the joints have malfunctioned for. Of course, this definition can be extended to cognitive function as well. Decline in cognitive function is NOT due to old age but how long a person has been mentally disengaged and passive for. 

This is one of many reasons why chiropractic is so powerful.

Chiropractic adjustments work to restore the normal motion of the joints and their biomechanical relationship to their surrounding structures. Normalising joint function allows degeneration to stop. On top of that, a chiropractor can also realign the shape of the spine to further improve the health of the joints and create longer lasting results. Below is an actual before-and-after X-ray result from my clinic. The patient has kindly allowed me to share her x-ray results for educational purposes. Results like these are not uncommon.

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Recent studies have also shown that chiropractic not only normalises the abnormal rate of degeneration but can also reverse degeneration that have already taken place to a certain degree. 

 

 

Teens are more prone to degeneration than elderly.

This is another fact that debunks the religiously believed association between aging and degeneration. Nowadays it is common to see more degeneration and damage in the spines of younger adults compared to the elderly.

Are you surprised? 

A systematic review of spinal degeneration among asymptomatic (absence of symptoms) populations showed that "37% of asymptomatic 20-year-old individuals had disk degeneration" (2). The main reason why younger adults are suffering from premature degeneration is due to increased hours spent in front of electronic devices such as tablets, computers and smartphones.

A poll recently showed that "a person (young adult) ends up spending 1.8 hours using their tablets and phones, 1.4 hours gaming and 3.7 hours using their laptop or computer." That's almost 7 hours a day with our heads down on a screen!

 
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An orthopaedic specialist, Dr Nancy Craven states: "it is very likely that young adults with poor posture habits are likely to suffer chronic neck and upper back pain, headaches, and even arthritis (degeneration)… because the [spine] alignment is not correct. With these kids' spinal alignment being off at a such a young age, arthritis (degeneration) will set in earlier, which could lead to the need for medications or surgery."

 
 

What The Future Holds...

From teenagers to working adults, sitting and the use of electronic devices have become the new norm without exception. The vast majority of our waking hours are spent on electronic devices with compromised postures and this means trouble! Our ancestors did not sit for hours nor did they have access to home computers and smartphones. Today, young adults are aggressively developing spine misalignments and premature degeneration well ahead of their time.

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Distancing ourselves from computers and smartphones is near impossible. It's the way to get things done, connect with the world and do business. If this is the reality we live in, I urge you to take action and do something about it.

The health and structure of the spine dictates the overall function and well-being of your body.

Whether you're in pain or not, it's time to take care of your body. Abnormal or premature degeneration is preventable! Not all degeneration causes symptoms! The first step in solving a problem is recognising there is one. Degeneration is not a result of old age but a net product of poor posture, spine misalignments and joint malfunction. Many people seem to really care about their health. Some take annual chest X-rays to look into their lungs. They get blood work done. And some even exercise on a regular basis too. But when was the last time you had your spine checked?

 

 

  1. Epidemiology of Osteoarthritis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920533
  2. Systemic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4464797/