Arthritis is a big problem that affects many people in lots of different ways.

As far as musculoskeletal pain is concerned, arthritis casts a very long shadow. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 22% of American adults (about 50 million people) report having been diagnosed with arthritis. Their symptoms may include pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. Although arthritis is most often seen in middle-aged and older adults, it can also afflict younger people. And it’s not a health condition that chooses its victims based on ethnicity or gender either—arthritis doesn’t discriminate.

While the general public is aware that arthritis is painful, fewer people recognize just how widespread and severe the debilitating effects of arthritis actually are. People with arthritis may experience difficulty with everyday tasks like buttoning shirts or opening packages and containers. They may also find that arthritis limits their mobility. This could prevent them from participating in their favorite activities or spending time with friends and family. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons issued a Bulletin in October 1999 that ranked arthritis as a more frequent cause of activity limitation than heart disease, cancer or diabetes. More than ten years later, the CDC estimates that 21 million Americans face some type of disability as a result of arthritis. These kinds of statistics suggest that strategies for managing arthritis need to address goals beyond pain relief if they are to be truly successful.

But what exactly is arthritis?

 

Arthritis is not really one medical condition. Rather, it’s a more general term that refers to inflammation that may affect joints and other parts of the body as a result of more than 100 “rheumatic diseases”, such as fibrarthritisomyalgia, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. These disorders destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues.

 

You have choices when it comes to treating arthritis.

 

If you or someone you care about is suffering from arthritis, you should know that arthritis doesn’t have to mean an end to an active lifestyle. Prior generations may have accepted the condition as an inevitable part of aging and been given a standard prescription of bed rest and drug therapies. However, today’s health care professionals recognize that appropriate exercise and nutrition are also critical to managing arthritis effectively, and they can recommend a much wider range of treatment options.

 

How Your Chiropractor Can Help

Your chiropractor can play an important role, not only in relieving pain, but also in helping patients with arthritis continue to live a more independent, active lifestyle. For many arthritis sufferers, treatment still begins with rest and medication. But if you have arthritis, a chiropractic physician can help you develop a well-rounded, long-term approach to managing your arthritis in two other very important ways:

• Designing an exercise program based on your own unique requirements. Such a program usually focuses on a combination of goals, including (1) restoring any lost range of motion in your joints, (2) improving your flexibility and endurance, and (3) increasing your muscle tone and strength. Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated that inactivity can make joints affected by arthritis even more painful and stiff. It can also have other negative health effects. A properly designed and supervised exercise program can reduce these risks.

• Suggesting dietary changes and/or nutritional supplements that may be effective in reducing or controlling inflammation in your joints. Some research indicates that certain foods can have a role in either increasing or suppressing the body’s natural inflammatory response. Making adjustments to your diet may reduce swelling, redness and pain related to arthritis.

Keep in mind that some types of physical activity and dietary supplements may actually do more harm than good depending on the specific nature of your arthritis, the joints involved and your current treatment plan. So open communication with all the members of your healthcare team—including your chiropractor, family doctor and any specialists you’re working with—is the key to achieving results safely! Both the symptoms and underlying causes of arthritis can vary a great deal by individual, so it’s important that you consult your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and to put in place a treatment plan that’s right for you.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from arthritis, it helps to know that you’re not alone and that you have treatment options. Many people are looking for a safe and natural approach that doesn’t involve the costs or risks associated with prescription medications or surgery. This is where chiropractic care may be able to provide an effective alternative. We encourage you to call or visit our office today to learn more. We’re here to help!

chiropractic for treating degenerative disc diseaseDegenerative disc disease (DDD) is a very common medical condition that affects a large and growing portion of the population. In fact, the low back pain that often accompanies DDD is the leading cause of disability in people under age 45. DDD has long been recognized as a difficult condition to treat, and many patients undergo invasive, expensive and risky surgical procedures every year in an effort to find relief.

Part of the reason DDD can be difficult to treat is that disc degeneration itself is not really a distinct diagnosis at all. Rather, DDD refers more generally to a breakdown of the spongy cartilage discs that separate and cushion your vertebrae. This breakdown is most often caused by normal changes that occur as part of the aging process. While a majority of people will experience these changes pain-free, an estimated 85 percent of the population will show evidence of some disk degeneration by the time they reach age 50. This means that there are two important things to keep in mind when it comes to DDD:

  1. Most people will eventually have disc degeneration even if they do not have symptoms.
  2. The fact that some degeneration is apparent in diagnostic imaging does not necessarily mean that DDD is actually responsible for your symptoms (pain, reduced mobility, etc.).

WHAT CAN BE DONE – CONSERVATIVE TREATMENT OPTIONS

At the more conservative end of the spectrum, traditional treatment of DDD has usually involved finding ways to manage the pain. The most common of these is taking non-steroidal painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. However, it’s important to realize that this does not ultimately address the cause of the problem. The good news is that there are other conservative options available.

Many patients have found that manual therapies, such as chiropractic care and therapeutic low back massages can improve mobility and reduce pain without the need for medication. These approaches center on restoring blood flow, easing inflammation, reducing muscle tension and increasing range of motion. They can also stimulate the release of pain-relieving natural endorphins.

Non-surgical spinal decompression therapy has also proven to be effective for many patients. This treatment involves gently separating the vertebrae to reduce pressure on the spinal discs and encourage nutrients and water to flow back into them.

SURGICAL OPTIONS

Surgical options range from minimally-invasive procedures like microdiscectomies to more invasive ones such as laminectomies and spinal fusions (also called spondylodesis). Under certain circumstances, surgery may help relieve the pain caused by DDD and related pressure on nerves. While these types of techniques have become increasingly common, they all involve the risks that accompany any type of surgery. They also involve risks that are more specific to surgery on or around the spine.

Always be sure to consult your family physician and be sure to get a second (and third) opinion before undergoing any type of surgery. They can help you balance the likelihood of success against the risks and expense. Most healthcare professionals recommend that patients exhaust more conservative treatment options before choosing surgery.

EXPERIMENTAL TECHNIQUES – A LOOK INTO THE MORE DISTANT FUTURE?

Medical researchers and clinicians around the world are experimenting with other approaches to treating degenerative disc disease. Two of the more promising candidates include stem cell therapy and disc replacement. While both of these techniques are in the very early stages of development, they may eventually prove useful for the small percentage of people for whom more conservative therapies have not worked on a long-term basis.

Stem Cell Therapy

Some scientists are investigating the possibility of using stem cells to either restore the integrity of the disk or to prevent the disk’s further degeneration. Researcher Helena Barreto-Henriksson of the Institute of Clinical Sciences, and her colleagues at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden found that when stem cells were injected into a damaged disc in animal models, they showed some healing capacity. According to Barreto-Henriksson, “Images taken by MRI showed that the transplanted stem cells survived, that they developed into cells that had a function similar to that of disc cells, and that there was a certain degree of healing in the disc.”

A similar recent study explored the use of notochord cells, which are the precursors of intervertebral discs that are present in all vertebrates, and which have been found to survive into adulthood in some animals. The study done on adult dogs found that these cells secreted a connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), which keeps cartilage healthy and flexible. If these cells can be found in the human vertebrae, therapies may be developed that would provide a simpler solution to treating DDD than surgery.

Disc Replacement

In more severe cases where surgery is necessary, it may soon be possible to replace individual vertebral discs. Engineers from Brigham Young University in Utah have recently developed an artificial spinal disc that is able to replicate the natural motion of the spine. Implanting this or a similar device may eventually be preferable to the current generation of surgical options.

A USEFUL PERSPECTIVE ON SPINAL HEALTH

While this article offers a very general look at some of the treatment options available for DDD-today and perhaps in the future-it would be an oversight not to mention some of the things you can do to slow the rate of disc degeneration and reduce its likely effects.

  1. Develop and maintain “core” muscle strength. Strong back and abdominal muscles help support your frame and reduce the likelihood of injury.
  2. Watch your posture.
  3. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Your discs are mostly water, and they work best as shock absorbers when they are at maximum volume and thickness.
  4. Stay active. Movement encourages the flow of fluid and nutrients into your spinal discs.

With a growing segment of the population beginning to reach old age, both scientists and practitioners will continue to look for more and better solutions to age-related problems such as DDD. That said, it’s more important than ever for individuals to understand the role that their own lifestyle choices play in maintaining their health. These choices start with good nutrition, exercise and a basic awareness of biomechanics. Because prevention is always better than even the best cure.

Among veterans, musculoskeletal pain is one of the most common complaints, particularly low back pain (LBP). The number of veterans reporting to the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) with low back pain rose an average of 4.8 percent per year between 2000 and 2007, exceeding the rise in rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. A survey of 15,000 veterans from the Persian Gulf War found that 45 percent reported experiencing back pain. Chiropractic services have been added to the care options for veterans, and most chiropractors providing services to veterans within the VHA reported that LBP was the primary complaint.

chiropractic for veterans with back painA study to determine the effectiveness of chiropractic care in treating veterans with LBP was performed on 171 patients who met the inclusion criteria. The average veteran was male, obese and suffering from chronic LBP (for over 6 months, on average). Most participants also presented with other physical and psychological issues. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common in the veteran population and has been shown to contribute to chronic pain.

Veterans in the study received treatment from a chiropractor in the western New York area after being referred by their primary care physician. The number of treatments given to each case during the course of the study ranged from 2 to 26, with 8.7 being the mean number of treatments per person. Treatments were performed twice a week on average, and the patient was assessed after every four treatments.
Walnut Creek chiropractors used a range of treatment modalities on the subjects, including standard adjustments, spinal mobilization and flexion distraction. Patients were also instructed on how to perform therapeutic exercises and do stretches that were tailored to their specific condition.

Pain severity was measured by the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS), which is a verbal rating by the patient on the severity of pain using a scale ranging from 0 to 10 at the time treatment is undertaken. The Back Bournemouth Questionnaire (BBQ) is a biopsychosocial measurement of low back pain symptoms consisting of 7 questions that measure pain, disability, and the affective and cognitive-behavioral aspects of musculoskeletal problems. Scores on the BBQ range from 0 to 70, with higher numbers indicating a higher severity of symptoms.

After only two chiropractic treatments, 60 percent of veterans showed a significant improvement of 37.4 points on the NRS and 34.6 points on the BBQ measurements. The researchers concluded that, “Despite high levels of service-connected disability and comorbidity, veterans’ chiropractic clinical outcomes in terms of mean percentage improvement from baseline to discharge for both NRS and BBQ were statistically significant and clinically meaningful. This study adds to the understanding of chiropractic clinical outcomes for veterans with LBP and contributes to a foundation for further research.”