If you have ever been to a doctor’s office and had an x-ray performed, you have likely heard about something called spinal degeneration. Spinal degeneration is a condition in which the discs and joints of the spine begin to narrow and often form bone spurs.
If you’ve ever been to a chiropractor’s office and seen your x-rays, you’ve probably seen a chart that looks like this:
You compared yourself to one of these images, and identified yourself within one of the various phases of spinal degeneration. Maybe you felt confused. Maybe you felt alarmed, perhaps even a little scared. Either way, you knew that your neck probably didn’t look like the “normal” neck, and that you had work to do.
How Bad is it Really?
No one likes to be told that their spine is developing arthritic degeneration. It’s a sign that the days of our youth are fading, and a reminder that our bodies are not going to last forever.
Everyone will develop some level of spinal degeneration as we get older.
Regardless of whether someone has a lifetime of chiropractic, supplements, positve mental attitude, etc, we cannot stop discs from breaking down or bone spurs from forming. Once people get into their 40’s and 50’s, we expect to see some degree of degeneration in the spine.
Are there those in their 70’s without it? Sure. But those are OUTLIERS, and we don’t make predictions based on a handful of outliers.
With that being said, here are some quick facts to know about spinal degeneration.
1. Degeneration ≠ Pain – One of the things that really frustrates me is when someone tells a patient that they are going to live with chronic pain because they have spinal degeneration.
While many people with degeneration do have spinal pain, an OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of people with degeneration have no pain what so ever.
While a lot of people with pain have some level of spinal degeneration, that doesn’t mean that spinal degeneration is the CAUSE of their pain.
I’ve seen thousands of patients with massive spinal degeneration when I see them, and many of them will get better despite the fact that their degeneration has NOT CHANGED.
We have to resist being trapped within a diagnosis, especially if that diagnosis has a high degree of inaccuracy.
2. Your Spine Isn’t Going to Fuse (Probably) – some patients have come to me with concerns that a doctor told them that their spine is fusing. This is always something that raises my eyebrows because there are less than a handful of situations where you would expect the segments of the spine to fuse together.
I took an x-ray on the patient and all that was visible was moderate disc degeneration. A very common finding on x-ray, and nothing to get very alarmed about.
They were under the impression that their spine would be fused together within 5 years if they didn’t get this fixed.
This is absurd for a couple of reasons:
- Vertebra don’t fuse as they degenerate. Discs will get closer together to where there’s minimal space, but regular degeneration WILL NOT turn into a fused vertebra. They are completely different things.
- We have NO idea what the time table is on degeneration. None. Nada. Zilch.
Except in cases of certain disease processes (i.e. – ankylosing spondylitis), this is nothing but fear mongering.
Degeneration, not Death Sentence
Degeneration can be a problem for some patients. Loss of hydration in the disc, and lack of movement in the spine can create problems for the brain and nervous system.
Time and again, I’ve seen patients who have been told that their problem is related to arthritic knees, hips, and spines respond really nicely to Structural Correction. Even without seeing any change to the degenerated joint.
If the arthritis were the sole problem, then no one with spinal degeneration would ever get better.
Degeneration is a sign of a breakdown process, but it’s not usually the cause. We need to be freed from these self-defeating labels that hold us back from living the active and healthy lifestyle we all deserve. If you’ve been told that your pain or problem is because of arthritis or degeneration, it may be time to get another opinion.