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Young Degeneration

You don’t have to be old or in pain to be suffering
spinal degeneration

SpineA few years ago, we had a 65-year-old patient who had simply come to us too late.

A single X-ray told the whole sad story. Not only had his neck lost its natural backward curve (like a “C”), its fixed position was now a bend forward and up (like an “S”). As a result, many vertebrae in his neck were in an advanced state of arthritic degeneration.

He came to us desperate to do whatever it would take to correct the problem.

He wasn’t feeling pain anymore – he was on opioid pain medications that left him unable to feel much of anything. But the stress that his neck was putting on his spinal cord and nervous system had seriously impaired his mobility and core strength. He couldn’t risk more than a walk for fear his legs would give out. Even on stairs, he had to carefully step down backwards with a firm grip on the railing. A walker and then a wheelchair lay in his future.

The seeds of spinal degeneration are planted young

This of course wasn’t a problem that had started in his 60s. The seeds had been planted years, even decades, before. It all started with chronic neck pain, for which the common medical solution was an increasingly powerful painkiller.

But as much as he might have masked the pain with pills, the degeneration of his neck didn’t stop.

These kinds of stories make it easy for many of us to dismiss spinal degeneration as an older person’s affliction. But in our age of mobile technology and marathon gaming sessions hunched over a controller, the seeds are planted early.

In 2003, Dr. Francis Smith, a consultant radiologist and sports medicine physician at Woodland Hospital in Aberdeen, Scotland, conducted a study of the MRI scans from154 10-year-olds. Nine per cent were found to have signs of asymptomatic disc degeneration (bulging and tearing) – asymptomatic in that these kids displayed no symptoms, including no pain.

In a news article at the time, Dr. William Sanders, a neuroradiologist with William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. said, “Without a significant history of trauma, or repeated trauma, like an Olympic athlete might have, you wouldn’t expect to see disc degeneration in that high a percentage of children.”

The mileage adds up fast

little girl laying on grass smiling But what do kids do? They carry heavy backpacks (A warning to parents, with school now back in session!). They play rough sports. They spend a lot of time bent over iPods, tablets, and game controllers. For their spine, this can be death by a thousand cuts.

It only gets worse with age. Last year, another study found that, by the age of 20, 37 per cent of people have evidence of spinal degeneration with no symptoms – these two studies suggest that, between the ages of 10 and 20, the incidence rate quadruples among average teens.

This is why, as chiropractors, we want to check out your kids, too, because we know that bad lifestyle habits, as well as the lingering effects of old injuries, are risk factors for degeneration of your spine at any age.

If you wait until you feel pain and discomfort, some degree of damage that cannot be reversed may have already been done. Just like regular dentist visits for your teeth, your spine deserves preventative care.

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