Have you or someone you know ever been told that arthritis is just due to age? I hear this every single week. For example, I sat down with Mr. Smith this week to go over his x-rays with him. I always begin by explaining what a normal spine looks like. The vertebrae should be nice and square with well-defined edges, the disc spaces should be plump and not wearing thin, and there should be a forward banana shaped curve in the neck and low back.
As we pull up Mr. Smith’s x-rays, it was obvious that a few of his vertebrae were indeed not square with well-defined edges, a few of his disc spaces were thin, and he had lost the curve in his neck. As I show him the signs of arthritis he looks at me and says, “Doc, I’m 80 years old. I’m supposed to have arthritis.” I then explain to him that all his vertebrae are the same age but only three of them show signs of arthritis. At this moment the light bulb goes off and he realizes he has been believing a lie.
We can do this with any joint in the body, not just the spine. Most patients will have one shoulder that is arthritic or one knee but not both. But aren’t both sides the same age? Of course they are! It just proves to us that arthritis is not due to age alone.
A recent study done at Harvard examined over 2000 skeletons, ranging from ancient remains to 19th century cadavers, for signs of arthritis. The researchers found that our ancestors actually had about half the incidence of arthritis. As a matter of fact, your chances of having arthritis at any given age is double what it would be if you were born before World War II.
A skeptic of this study (like myself) would point out that we are living longer and carrying around more weight nowadays than they did in pre-WWII era. That could still leave the door open for age and weight to be the cause of arthritis. However, the researchers took this into consideration and after factoring out weight and longevity there was still a dramatic rise in rates of arthritis! This surprised even the researchers!
The study concludes by pointing out that the role of joints is to bear weight and stress evenly. When we don’t use our joints or when the joints aren’t mechanically functioning properly that is when we begin to see arthritis. In other words, the rise in arthritis is due to a LACK of activity not the “wear and tear” rumor that has plagued our minds. The other main contributing factor is when these joints suffer macro or micro injuries that cause them to bear weight abnormally.
Chiropractic focuses on ensuring the joints are aligned properly and therefore distributing weight evenly. These joints also directly influence the brain and spinal cord. Nobel prize winner, Roger Sperry, found that the brain receives 90% of its nutrition from movement of the spine. The best way to prevent arthritis is to ensure the joints are functioning properly and that we continue to be physically active.