Degeneration, What's it all about?

Back pain strikes, who do you call?

Back Pain

When we talk about degeneration of the spine we talk about two different areas that most often have degeneration at the same time. The first area is the discs in the spine. The second area is the small joints at the back of the spine that regulate the movement of the spine. These joints are called facet joints.

It is more complicated

When discs degenerate, they loose their space, their thickness. But it is the discs that hold the vertebrae apart and thus give space for the nerves.

When the discs loose their space, the vertebrae come closer together and the facets then jam into each other. This causes these facets to degenerate. And so, you have a snow ball effect. As the discs degenerate more then the facets also degenerate more.

Basic Anatomy of the Low Back Spine

Nerves in the low back.

Spinal Disc Degeneration

Some phases of disc degeneration.

Degenerated Low Back

Notice the thin discs at the lower three levels. See the changes in the bone around those discs.
Notice as well the degeneration in the facet joints that are located to the left of the nerves. These facet joints are a very common site of pain. When these facets degenerate, they stop moving properly and this causes more degeneration to occur in the poorly moving facets. Chiropractors can help move the facets and thus free up their motion somewhat. Good nutrition is important to a spine like this and regular exercise is also very important.
When the nerves get pinched, either by the facets, the discs or the misshaped bones, then pain might extent into the buttocks or shoot down a leg. Chiropractor can often help with this kind of pain.

Low back degeneration.

The same thing can happen in the neck.

Normal Neck

This picture is a cross section of the neck similar to what a CAT Scan might show, except this picture has been coloured for easy recognition of the parts.
The spinal cord is in yellow and the bones of the neck are in brown. Notice the nice smooth contour to the bones and the pink discs between the bones. This neck has a nice smooth curve to it. This curve is a key factor chiropractors look for.

Normal neck.

Degenerated Neck

Notice the loss of the normal curve. Some discs are thinning and bulging. Some bones are misshapen. The points on some of the bones, at the front and back, are called osteophytes. Notice one discs irritating the yellow spinal column.

Degenerating and disc bulging neck. One disc pressing on spinal column.

Can this nerve pinching cause more problems than just pain?

This particular topic is where the controversy comes into play with the chiropractic profession.
The spine is divided into five areas to make it easier to understand and talk about. The Cranial, Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar and Sacral areas.
The nerves are divided into two general systems. The first system shown below, is called the peripheral nervous system. It caries signals to the brain from the periphery of the body. These nerves move the muscles and conduct sensations, pain being one of those sensations. Much scientific research has shown chiropractors correct in their assertion that they can help alleviate pain and do it faster and at less cost than medical doctors and physiotherapists combined.
There is another system called the autonomic nervous system. It regulates the automatic functions of the body. This autonomic system is further divided into two divisions because there are two separate needs that the body has.
The body needs to be able to react to danger in a very fast way without thinking about it. This system called the Fight or Flight system, governs the muscles, heart rate, breathing, eye sight and much more. It allows the body to fight or run very quickly.
The body also needs to take in nourishment on a regular basis. The system that regulates this is called the vegetative system. Scientific terms for these systems are Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems. The following two pages show this autonomic nervous system.
Chiropractors maintain that subluxations in the spine affect this autonomic nervous system causing it to malfunction. If a subluxation can cause pain and so much disability, and if chiropractors can provide so much fast relief for this pain, then it makes sense that this very same subluxation can cause irritation on these autonomic nerves as well. And Indeed, research shows that to be true.
Critics of chiropractic, of course, want still more proof. Even though they have not proven their beliefs, they still insist chiropractors should prove what they do. Our society has a long history of choice in health care and people value that choice. In fact, there are more visits in North America to alternative health care providers (of which chiropractic is the largest and most used), than to traditional medical doctors.
People who listened to these critics in the past did not get the tremendous benefits that chiropractic can offer for pain relief. People who listened to critics say foods have nothing to do with cancer did not get the cancer fighting benefits of certain wholesome foods. People who listened to the critics say Folic acid had nothing to do with neural tube defects (cleft lip, spina bifida etc.) did not benefit from the tremendous preventative effects of this simple vitamin. Now-days it would be considered malpractice if an MD did not recommend this vitamin to pregnant women.
And so, with this history of slow acceptance of scientific research, it behooves one to be careful when listening to critics criticize chiropractic. You will have to make your own mind up whether you wish the benefits of regular wellness chiropractic care.

The normal curves of the spine.

Divisions of the Spine

Major nerves of the spine.

The Peripheral Nervous System

One of the basics of chiropractic.

Nerve Function Chart

Although this chart is not clear, it gives a sense of the complexity of the spine and nerves.

Some of the organs the autonomic nervis system regulates. One of the ways chiropractic helps.

Pain

Back pain can be helped.

Chiropractic Delivers