By Dr. Steve Hansen
“Doc, I feel like I’m getting old!”
I hear that a lot. And it’s often true … we do feel old when our joints ache. We feel old when our body hurts when the weather changes. We feel old when we can’t turn our heads or other parts of our body just feel stiff. These are all symptoms of a degenerative joint disease called osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects the cartilage, which breaks down and eventually wears away. The end result is that instead of gliding naturally at the joints, bones rub against each other, causing pain, swelling and loss of motion. Most people associate osteoarthritis (OA) with aging. Even though the patients I see with OA tend to be over 40, the disease can occur in younger patients, and it is often related to the activities they’ve done in the past. There can also be a genetic predisposition to OA.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
While some patients in the early stages of OA will present with pain due to inflammation in the affected area, often OA is so slow to progress that patients don’t realize they have it. A lot of times it is not picked up until the patient is in my office, and they present with lack of mobility and joint pain. Then X-rays are taken, and we can see the severity and the damage.
The patients don’t often comprehend how much range of motion they have lost until I point it out. What they will notice is, “When I am driving, I have to turn my whole body to look over my shoulder,” and that tells me it has been progressing for quite a while. For example, you should be able to turn your head, and go all the way over to your shoulder. Or, take your ear and almost touch your shoulder, and go through general ranges of motion. But patients with OA will only be able to turn maybe 15 to 20 degrees.
It’s not necessarily due to age. It has more to do with joint function. If you are specifically talking about OA in the spine, then we look at the curves, because there are very specific curves that the spine should have. If you lose those curves, then it puts abnormal stress on the joints and on the disks, and over time. By that, I mean over ten or 15 years, all that extra stress will set in for OA. That is why chiropractic care is so essential for OA patients before they have OA. Chiropractic adjustments and certain exercises help to optimize joint function. Depending on how advanced the OA is, restoration of some, or all of the spinal curvatures are possible. And although you can’t reverse the damage, you can improve function, reduce pain, and essentially slow down or stop the progress of the degenerative disease. Home exercises to help maintain mobility and facilitate curvature restoration are helpful, as are certain nutritional protocols to support the joints and ligaments.
The bottom line is this, be proactive! Get in to a chiropractor before you can’t move well. Chiropractic adjustments are very effective in warding off many health issues that are caused by the neglects and abuses of everyday life. Osteoporosis is a disease that takes time to develop and pain often shows up late in the process. Like most other diseases, OA is easier to take care of in its early stages.
Keep your weight down, and stay active. ν