One of the great mysteries of back pain has been answered.
Over the course of my career of treating people with back pain I have probably treated close to ten thousand patients.
No two of them were just alike.
Even if I have ten patients in a row with the exact same symptoms of back pain, the actual cause of their back pain will differ slightly and the successful treatment for each patient must be unique.
For centuries, medical professionals and patients alike have debated what the actual cause and best solution for back pain is. It seems that a remedy that successfully alleviates pain for one patient is completely useless for the next.
“Use heat. No, use cold. Get up and move. No, you need to rest. Spinal surgery can fix the problem. No, spinal surgery often fails and make the problem worse. Traction is good. No, traction made me worse. Try these exercises. No, strain will make the problem worse. This muscle relaxer helps. The side effects of the medication are worse than the problem.”
And on it goes.
The debate is not likely to end. Ever.
The causes of spinal pain are numerous and varied.
In our clinic we have the advantage of having a multi-faceted approach that includes several different applications of various treatments for each patient. That means we often have success for difficult cases that have not responded to other treatment efforts.
One of the things that has recently emerged from research should help all providers that treat back pain be more successful.
Spinal discs need to be healthy for your spine to be healthy. Spinal discs are being researched more closely now than ever.
Ever since the invention of advanced imaging such as CT scans and especially MRI, it has been increasingly common to diagnose a patient with degenerative discs. The diagnosis is easy to make. You can actually see the deterioration of the disc structure on the screen.
When a patient would ask what caused the degeneration, they would often receive the answer: “Age. Your spine has deteriorated as a result of the aging process.”
That statement is completely false.
The spine does not deteriorate simply as a result of the aging process.
The primary cause of spinal degeneration is often long forgotten injury and the change in fluid dynamics that followed that injury.
Consider that the spinal joints above and below the affected area are exactly the same age as the ones that hurt. If age were truly the culprit, all the spinal joints would be equally deteriorated.
To understand how the process of degeneration occurs after an injury it may be helpful to think about a joint injury everyone is familiar with.
Consider a time that you have had a finger or toe “jammed”. Within minutes the areas begins to swell, and as more fluid accumulates, the finger gets more inflamed and less mobile. After a few hours it hardly moves at all.
Your finger is right there in front of you and you can see it swelling and becoming immobile. As a result most people begin taking steps to reduce the immobility. You begin consciously or subconsciously grasping the finger with the other hand, squeezing the tissues rhythmically and stretching and bending the finger to get it moving again.
If you do not work with the finger to restore motion, you may lose mobility of the finger joints permanently. But you keep working with the injured finger until it moves normally and the swelling is gone.
When you have a significant injury to your neck or back, the same process occurs. The ligaments surrounding the spinal joint and the disc itself begin to swell as a result of the injury and the surrounding muscles tighten up to protect the injured joint.
The injury that causes this series of events can be an automobile collision, a fall, a sports injury or any number of other types of injury.
Regardless of what the initial injury is, the result is a loss of motion of that particular spinal joint. That part of your spine becomes stiff. And it often hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot and movement becomes impossible.
But eventually the pain from that injury will fade and you forget about it.
Unfortunately, the injury has started a cascade of events that disrupt the normal fluid dynamics of the disc that will lead to spinal degeneration.
Next week: Learn how to prevent spinal degeneration and what can be done to reverse it today.