The spine can be thought of as a mechanical device that needs proper care and maintenance. The better you care for your spine, the longer it will operate without problems. However, it will wear out faster if neglected.
As we age, we all develop some degree of spinal degeneration – it is unavoidable. However, some people have more or fewer symptoms, depending on individual variation, genetics, overall health status and concurrent health issues. As the population ages, spinal degeneration and its complications will become a bigger and bigger problem, causing greater disability. The need for expert care for the spine as we get older will only grow.
Each stage of spinal degeneration has certain characteristics most patients can see and understand. These stages are explained below.
Spinal Degeneration – Stage I
Spinal degeneration begins with changes that occur inside the intervertebral disc. These changes include a loss of disc volume due to fluid loss. If there are concurrent diseases involved in the degeneration, it may progress faster than when only age-related. Either way, degeneration at this stage may or may not cause symptoms, but can lead to pain, spinal stenosis and joint problems. Physical changes include a loss of disc height, mild approximation of spinal joins and spinal segment dysfunction.
Stage II involves the loss of normal curvature of the spine, as revealed through bone scans. The space between discs narrows moderately to severely, and discs may bulge from between the bones. Joint surfaces become rougher and bone spurs may appear at the spinal joints. There may be notable dysfunction of spinal segments, resulting in instability.
Stage III can involve significant losses of normal spinal curvature. The discs degenerate profoundly and the space between discs narrows even further. The discs herniate and bone spurs are common. This stage may be associated with spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal column, which can create pressure on the spinal cord. Segment dysfunction progresses and may lead to degenerative fusion, also known as ankylosis, in which spinal vertebrae cement together.
Chiropractors are experts in evaluation and care of the spine. They are qualified to provide appropriate preventive care and treatment to help restore and maintain normal spinal alignment and functioning. While some degree of spinal degeneration cannot be avoided as we age, regular and proper chiropractic care can slow the progress of the process, prevent new problems from appearing and provide symptom relief.