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Rohlfs Chiropractic Care November 2019 Newsletter – All Things Spinal Degeneration

Nov 25, 2019

All Things Degeneration: How It Develops And Best Ways To Overcome It

Degeneration of the spine is a common finding on spinal imaging, and is quite often one of the most popular reasons people come to our office.  However, this was not always the case. Until about 20 years ago, degeneration on an MRI was almost a guarantee of surgery. Thankfully, since that time research and evidence has shown us that not only is surgery for degeneration a bad idea, but it is actually counterproductive.  

So let’s break down exactly what degeneration is first.  Degeneration refers to the loss of normal structure and function of the spine, most commonly due to arthritis.  The spine itself is made up of bones, called vertebra, and discs.

Degeneration is a rather common and normal process with aging.  These changes are most noticeable on imaging between the ages of 40-60.  It’s a slow process that occurs over the years, but certainly can be a contributor to chronic back pain.

So knowing what we know now, we have two questions to answer:

How does it happen?

Is it avoidable?

First, the degenerative process begins because, as we age, the stress on the spine, from our body weight, shifts from the center of the disc and moves backwards to the back of the disc, which ultimately increases the load on the small joints of the spine called the facet joints.  This often results in the advancement of degeneration (arthritis) and ultimately starts the degenerative cascade which we will get into next.

Normal facet joint vs. Degenerative facet joint.  Degeneration of the facet joint occurs as there is increased load applied to it over time.  With continued degeneration eventually the nerve (yellow structure) can be compressed which leads to more severe and chronic pain that often radiates down the arm or leg.

Once the increased load moves backwards toward the joints, the disc begins to be infiltrated with a combination of nerve fibers and blood vessels.  The good thing is that this increases circulation to the disc, the bad thing is that this also makes us more sensitive to pain.  

Over time, as the shapes of the bones in the spine continue to change and degenerate, nerve compression can often develop which causes more frequent pain that can radiate down the arm or leg and also cause more localized inflammation in the area of compression.  So the degenerative cascade goes from disc to bone to nerve.

Other contributing factors to advanced spinal degeneration include:

Genetics – some of us are just more prone to this process than others

Injuries – trauma to the spine can accelerate this process

Workload and Daily Habits – activities we perform day in and day out wear us down

Diet – inflammatory diets lead to increased sensitization of pain

Is it avoidable? No.

All of us are prone to some level of degeneration as we age.  The superior question would be, is this process able to be slowed down and better managed?  To that question, absolutely!

There are 3 main points of focus we use at Rohlfs Chiropractic Care to slowing down the degenerative process and managing current degeneration. 

  1. Segmental Motion – chiropractic manipulation serves to increase and improve range of motion and flexibility at the joint level and between each individual spinal segment.
  2. Regional Motion – stretching the muscles that surround the joints of the spine promotes improved range of motion and decreases the build up of tension in and around the soft tissue of the spine.
  3. Whole Body Motion – exercise helps to reinforce proper movement patterns leading to increased strength, stability and resiliency of the spine and the rest of the body.

These three components help to minimize degenerative changes to the structure of the spine while also maintaining function of the whole body.  If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with degeneration, don’t delay! Let us help keep you doing what you enjoy, without pain and restriction.  

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Rohlfs Chiropractic Care

Rohlfs Chiropractic Care of Wilmington