The real shame about arthritis is the terrible loss in quality of life as a result of arthritis pain (inability to hold our grandchildren, to dance with our favorite partner, to enjoy attending a sporting event, and a hundred other “minor disabilities”) is accepted by the victim as a” natural consequence of aging”. While gravity does eventually “win”, most of the factors that drag us slowly down can be prevented!
We all know 80 year olds living large, and 65-year olds who may as well be 85. Unfortunately, the uninformed victim of arthritis is told to take their pills and “slow down”. When the pills stop controlling the pain, they “slow down” even more. Eventually, in an effort to “run away from pain”, their life has become a shadow of its former self and the patient sits in their quiet little corner of the world “resigned to the inevitable”. It doesn’t have to be that way! It is possible to manage arthritis in a way that will improve the quality of life for the sufferer of arthritis by leaps and bounds. The term “arthritis” is very general. There are many forms of arthritis. The most common form (by far) is “osteoarthritis” or Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). DJD is caused by worn out joints.
Your body is a very sophisticated machine, designed to last for many years. Just like any other mechanical system, some parts (especially those stressed by gravity) wear out sooner than others. Degenerative arthritis almost always begins with joint dysfunction, which is usually present long before the pain appears. By the time there is pain, permanent damage has already been sustained in the involved joints.
How Old is Your Spine?
Your spine may be “older” than you are. Depending on how you use or abuse your spine, what accidents, injuries, medical conditions, etc. you have had, parts of your spine may be wearing out faster than the rest of your body. The factors that most often lead to early degenerative arthritic changes include major trauma (such as car accidents, falls, and other injuries), “micro-trauma” (prolonged sitting or standing for years, improper sleep postures, repetitive lifting, etc), congenital problems (such as malformed bones in the spine which result in abnormal joint function), excessive body weight, and others.
Is Degenerative Arthritis Permanent?
If a joint has been dysfunctional for a short time, proper restoration of function can prevent permanent degenerative changes. However, once the discs of the spine have begun to thin and bone spurs start to form, these changes are permanent. The discs get thinner and the bone spurs grow larger over time. Other nearby joints have to “work harder” because of the loss of function of the affected joints. As this disease progresses, these nearby joints begin to develop degenerative changes as well. It is not uncommon to see degenerative arthritic changes in several adjoining joints of the spine.
It is important to note that one can have fairly advanced joint dysfunction with degenerative changes present and still not experience pain. Severe arthritic pain usually comes when a bone spur gets large enough to irritate a spinal nerve (such as in the case of sciatica) or when a degenerating disc bulges to the point that the disc comes in contact with a nerve (as in the case of a “herniated disc”).
People who have degenerative changes present are an accident waiting to happen. Sometimes even trivial causes, such as sneezing or “overdoing it” just a little, or stepping off a curb wrong can launch an arthritic spine into an episode of severe pain, sometimes for the rest of one’s life.
What Can Be Done About Degenerative Joint Disease?
If there is a large bone spur irritating a nerve, or if a herniated disc is putting pressure on a nerve, then spinal surgery may be the only option. Other traditional medical approaches include spinal injections with steroids and painkillers.
Remember that the cause of the disc degeneration and bone spur formation is joint dysfunction. The chiropractic approach to managing degenerative arthritis involves restoring as much function to the spine as possible. We cannot make bone spurs go away, and we cannot make discs grow back. No one can. But the natural chiropractic approach to managing degenerative joint disease has a proven record of effectiveness when it comes to attaining these three goals:
- · Decrease or eliminate pain,
- · Restore function of the spine (flexibility, range of motion, etc.)
- · Slow or stop the degenerative process.
- Chiropractic Management of Arthritis
Proper management of degenerative arthritis consists of the application of appropriate physical therapy in conjunction with chiropractic adjustment of the spine. There are several adjusting techniques which can be used safely, depending upon your age, body type, etc. It is important that arthritic patients be involved in home self-care procedures. These vary from person to person, but might include stretching, applying heat or ice, home traction, etc. The patient must be made aware of risk factors which might cause painful symptom flair-ups, so that they can be avoided. Proper nutrition is also an important consideration. It is also very important to remember that it takes many years, sometimes several decades, for degenerative arthritis to wear away the spine. It takes time (and patience) to restore health, once it has been lost to arthritis.
What Happens if I Don’t Get the Care That I Need?
There are a lot of drugs that one can take to cover up the pain “until it goes away”. The pain may go away, but unless the function of the joints causing the pain is improved, the cause of the problem remains. There is a high probability (estimated by some studies as higher than 90%) that the dysfunctional joints will continue to degenerate, resulting in debilitating pain and crippling loss of function later in life.
How to Tell If You Have Arthritis
There are eight tests one may apply to determine whether one has arthritis:
- Does exercise cause greater ache in your joints? This is one of first signs of the beginning of arthritis.
- Do you have stiffness in your joints when you get up in the morning, and the stiffness goes away after about a half hour. This, too, is an early sign of arthritis.
- Gently exercise the affected joint over its complete range of motion. Does the joint creak or cause pain when you bend it to its normal limits? This is another sign of arthritis.
- Check the skin over the affected joint. Is it pulled tight? Is it shiny. These symptoms suggest the swelling that is caused either by osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Are the joints hot, or are they cold? If hot, you may be suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. If cold, it may be osteoarthritis.
- When you experience joint pain, is there swelling, or do you have a fever? If so, you may have either rheumatoid arthritis or a joint infection.
- Do your joints crackle or feel "gritty" when moved? This is a symptom of osteoarthritis. The crackling sound is caused by irritated cartilage and bones rubbing together.
- Are the affected joints symmetrically located? That is, if the joints in the first finger of each hand are in pain, you may have rheumatoid arthritis.
- Visit our office for advice and possible treatment if you suspect that you have arthritis.
When choosing a doctor of chiropractic:
- Be sure the chiropractor has attended an accredited chiropractic college.
- Make sure the chiropractor is licensed to practice in your state. After graduating from an accredited chiropractic college, doctors of chiropractic must pass rigorous state and national board exams before they can practice.
- Talk to your friends, family, and co-workers. The best referrals often come from satisfied patients.
- Talk to the doctor. The chiropractor should be willing to answer your questions and should talk freely with you about your concerns and course of treatment.