Age and Degenerative Disc Disease in Spine

Degenerative Disc Disease or arthritis of the spine is not a disease of aging.  The majority of patients have been forced to believe that age is the cause of their Degenerative Disc Disease.  Age does not degenerate any joints.  To prove this point, just look at other areas of the spine and you will be amazed to find young, hydrated, thick and well-nourished joints present next to the degenerated ones in patients who are in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s.  If age causes degeneration, then all the discs of the spine should be degenerating together.  Why is it that certain areas of the spine degenerate and others do not?  If age is not the cause, then what is causing some discs to degenerate?

The answer is elementary biomechanics.  When a joint’s biomechanical function is disrupted, the motion of the joint is altered.  Motion allows the flow of nutrition within the joint capsule and the cartilage.  By itself, cartilage does not have much vasculature.  In fact, spinal discs lose almost all arterial circulation after the age of 30.  Ultimately, motion of the spine becomes the primary form of circulation of the joint capsule, pumping nutrition in and out of the discs. Once this motion is disrupted, the flow of nutrition changes at cellular levels. This begins the first phase of degeneration, which is dehydration of the disc.  At this stage of degeneration, the disc can bulge out, like a balloon, and impinge on nerves or cause irritation of the surrounding tissues.

The next phase occurs due to the bulging disc’s extra stress upon the surrounding ligaments.  The body feels the irritation and extra pressure and begins to calcify the surrounding tissues irritated by the collapsing disc.  This is the second stage of the Degenerative Disc Disease.  We call these calcifications “spurs”.  The common medical name for these spurs are “osteophytes”.  Years go by and if the irritation is not halted, the spurs become large enough and the dehydrating disc small enough for the joint to totally fuse together.  At this stage, the patient’s mobility is compromised and the patient might feel severe and constant pain and nerve symptoms.  It is not uncommon that the majority of conservative cares such as chiropractic, physical therapy, and acupuncture fail these patients.  The doctor must be keen to quickly diagnose the severity of the disease and possibly refer the patient for more medical care such as cortisone injections or surgical intervention.

It is absolutely imperative for anyone with Degenerative Disc Disease to be evaluated by a chiropractor who understands the magnitude of joint mobility and its role in joint degeneration and osteoarthritis.  Such doctors are hailed as “lifesavers” by people who have found relief through their care.  By normalizing the joint mobility, the disc begins to experience the flow of nutrition.  This can slow the progression of the disease, or even stop it.  At Good Life Chiropractic we do not just blame “age” for a disease.  Age is a major health factor, but some of our patient,  at Golden Age enjoy full spinal mobility with x-ray results that compare to people less than half their age.

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