As you surf the web, you find all kinds of treatments for arthritis. Some of these are along the lines of the gimmicks that the snake oil salesmen of old tried to sell. There are some treatments of arthritis that are proven to help. In this series of posts I’m going to discuss arthritis, degeneration of the spine, its causes, treatment options, and home remedies.
When most people say arthritis, they think of the “wear and tear” arthritis or the arthritis of “old age”. The technical name for this type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that is characterized by the breakdown of the joint’s cartilage causing the bones to rub against each other leading to inflammation of the joint. Over time, the bones start to break down and deform causing the joints to look misshapen. That’s why arthritic joints such as in the hand appear enlarged and crooked.
One myth about osteoarthritis that needs debunked is it’s a normal part of the aging process. I see a lot of patients in my office that have degenerative joint disease in their spine. Let’s say I have taken an x-ray of someone’s neck, which is composed of 7 individual vertebrae (bones of the spine). Of those 7 vertebrae there may be 3 or 4 that are degenerating. The other vertebrae are perfectly fine. Now, all 7 of those bones are the same age – so if arthritis is just a factor of aging, all 7 of the vertebrae should be degenerating instead of just 3 or 4. There’s got to be other factors involved. Even the Arthritis Foundation states that the incidences of arthritis increases with age, but age is not the cause. The older you are, the more abnormal wear and tear you have on your joints leading to the increase in incidence of arthritis. But aging does not mean that arthritis is inevitable.
So if aging isn’t the cause of osteoarthritis, what is? Usually the degenerative process begins with an injury to the joint. The injury could be in the form of an actual trauma to the joint or it could be a repetitive stress type of a condition. Either way, something has happened to the joint so that it’s not functioning properly. When the joint doesn’t function correctly, there’s abnormal stress on it. That abnormal stress causes the cartilage break down more than normal. Thus, the degenerative cycle begins.
In terms of the spine, the injury causes what we as chiropractors call a subluxation or vertebral misalignment. Abnormal stress on the spine brought about by things like falls, auto accidents, or poor posture cause the vertebrae to come out of alignment. The misaligned vertebrae put stress on the discs and nerves. And much like a car axle that is out of alignment that causes the tires to wear unevenly, the discs and joints in the spine wear unevenly. This causes the discs to deteriorate and leads to degenerative disc disease. Once the discs start to deteriorate, the bone responds to the stress and bone spurs, or osteophytes, of degenerative joint disease develop.
Osteoarthritis is diagnosed through a combination of clinical history, patient examination, and x-rays. The signs of osteoarthritis include: steady or intermittent joint pain; joint stiffness after sitting, sleeping, or otherwise not moving for a long time; swelling or tenderness in the joints; and a crunching feeling or the sound of bones rubbing against each other. If you experience any of these signs consult your healthcare provider.