“It Must Be Because I’m Getting Old”
Are you suffering because of age, or might it be something deeper?
“Don’t get old, you end up like this”
“That’s just because of old age”
“See, this is why you shouldn’t get older”
These are some of the most common phrases that I hear in the office or when I’m out in public when people talk about the pain they’re having. Most of the time, they’re being said by someone in their early 40’s ; less than half of a normal American’s lifespan. It’s spoken as if Father Time had a magic shot that make a person start experiencing pain and arthritis completely out of the blue when they hit nature’s halfway point.
Let’s take a look at it for a second. When most people talk about the pain of getting old, they’re usually referring to a cascade of problems that’s lumped into the name Arthritis. We’re talking about the joint shrinking version known as osteoarthritis, and not the hot and burning inflammatory arthritis. Osteoarthritis is usually used to describe any one of these problems: degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc disease, spondylosis, bone spurs, and spinal canal stenosis.
Let’s take a look at one example:
This is the x-ray of a neck from a side view. This is a person in their late 50’s or early 60’s with neck pain and arm pain for the past year. The yellow arrows are pointing to areas that have severe degenerative disc disease. Estimated 40-50 years of breakdown. When these badly degenerated discs were pointed out to them, guess what was said?
“Oh, those are just due to old age”
Now, of course there will be wear and tear on the spine of a 60 year old person. There’s no question about that. But the extent of damage to the lower part of the neck is substantial. Now the interesting thing is this, how old is the healthy disc at the top of the spine?
That’s a trick question of course, because all of the discs are the same age. If this problem was strictly a matter of aging, wouldn’t you expect every single disc to have similar levels of degeneration?
“Here’s the truth, this person did not have a problem of age, they had an aging problem.”
There are definitive problems with the structure of this person’s spine. When a structural problem happens into the neck, 2 things can happen:
- The biomechanics of the spine become distorted and accelerate the wear and tear of the joints. Think about what happens to your car when the tires are improperly aligned. Would you expect the steering wheel to pull to one side? Would you expect one tire to wear out on one side faster than the other? Would you expect the ability for the tire to hold air to be different from side to side? The same thing happens to the joints of the spine too!
- The structural shift will distort the signals going in and out of the brain. As the spine shifts, the spinal cord and spinal nerves will misfire into the brain. This misfiring causes the muscles of the spine to tighten and spasm, and create dysfunction to anywhere where those nerves travel.
Those are the facts. Here’s where things get tricky. This person had a problem in their spine for upwards of 50+ years. However, she did not show any signs of neck pain until the past year. What gives?
Problems in the spine can be left undiagnosed and unidentified for several years. Research shows that many of us have herniated discs in the spine, and out of those people 60% of you will feel no symptoms. Thus, a problem that should be of primary concern can be wreaking havoc on the body without us knowing it.
With that said, these problems are almost always preventable. With proper exercise and proper postural awareness, you can save years of wear and tear on the spine, and maintain full function of the delicate nervous system. As with anything else, it’s always important that you protect the parts of your body that you hold most dear through routine check ups.
We always find time to check our blood pressure, cholesterol, eyes, and of course your teeth. When was the last time the structure of your spine was checked?