Did you know degenerative joint disease is the leading cause of disability in the elderly?
What is degenerative joint disease?
Degenerative joint disease or DJD is not really a disease, it’s a term used to describe the aging and changes of your spinal discs. Spinal discs are made of fibrocartilage which is a soft cartilage that absorbs the compressive forces of the spine. The discs are what allows the spine to absorb shock, flex, bend, and twist. Degenerative joint disease is most often found in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region) and less frequently in the mid-back (thoracic region) due to the aid of the rib cage.
Degeneration occurs as a progressive loss of fibrocartilage (disc shrinks) which causes a reduction in ability to flex, bend, twist or absorb shock.
As the disc gets thinner, there is less padding between the vertebra, and the spine becomes less stable with reduced mobility. The vertebrae then develops bony growths called bone spurs (osteophytes). Bone spurs may cause pressure to the spinal nerve roots or spinal cord, resulting in pain and affecting nerve function. Which in turn reduces more motion and allows the condition to progress.
The changes in the discs can result in back pain or neck pain as well as common associated conditions such as:
- Osteoarthritis: the breakdown of the bone and cartilage that protects the discs.
- Disc Herniation: when the inside of the disc (nucleus pulpous) breaks through the outside of the disc.
- Spinal/Foraminal Stenosis: narrowing on the boney openings which reduces the space the spinal cord and nerves pass through
Any one of these conditions may cause pain and affect the nerve function as it put pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves
What causes degenerative joint disease?
- Age: degeneration occurs normally in the aging process, however degeneration can remain milder if the spine has proper care.
- Trauma: a fall, an automobile accident, a work injury and many other types of injury can cause spinal degeneration.
- Poor biomechanics: irregular gait when you walk, leg length inequality, limp due to problems in your extremities or irregular movement patterns due to trauma, congenital abnormality or surgeries.
- Repetitive micro-trauma: activities in your normal life that create small amounts of trauma that increase over time. (e.g. jarring of the spine with repetitive bending, lifting twisting, use of heavy equipment, prolonged vibration)
- Postural: sustained poor posture with both activity and inactivity, poor desk ergonomics, prolonged posture in odd positions. (e.g. dentists, dental hygienists, hard dressers and mechanics)
- Lack of muscle flexibility: tight, shorted muscles that restrict range of motion and add tension to the spine.
- Genetics: abnormalities of the spine that reduce range of motion and add stress to the intervertebral discs. (e.g. scoliosis, spondylisthesis, torticollis, lumbarization and others)
How do I get rid of degenerative joint disease?
The short answer, you don’t. You can not “get rid” of DJD, however you can reduce the symptoms and the progression of DJD.
- Get moving! The disc is like a sponge that needs motion to squeeze out the disc’s waste products and to bring in the needed nutrients that keeps it healthy. Regular exercise can help prevent the advancement of DJD. If you currently have symptomatic DJD you want to discuss with your doctor the best exercises to perform.
- Hydration: Water will help keep your body hydrated and maintain a healthy hydration level in the discs which prevents the discs from desiccation (deterioration due to drying out).
- Stretching: Increasing your flexibility allows your muscle to move more freely and takes unnecessary tension off the spine and joints.
- Chiropractic adjustments: Studies have shown that regular chiropractic adjustments can slow the degeneration process by increasing motion in the spine, increasing flexibility in both muscles and ligaments, allows rehydration of the discs and reduces pain in the spine with endorphin release.
- Proper sleep: Maintain a healthy sleep cycle; getting 6-8 hours of sleep helps the spine to rest, relax and rehydrate by taking pressure of the body. Sleep on your back or your side with a pillow between your knees.
DJD is the leading cause of disability in the elderly, but it doesn’t have to be! Just as your dentist is trained to prevent tooth decay, chiropractors have been trained to prevent degenerative joint disease in your spine. However, if you wait too long before seeing your dentist or your chiropractor, too much damage can occur which reduces your chances of the best possible outcome. So don’t wait, schedule and maintain your appointments, because preventing DJD has to start today.
Nathan T. Eldredge D.C.