What are the consequences for back pain?
The human spine is made up of vertebrae, or segments of bone (shown below).
At the base of the spine (turquoise and blue) the vertebrae are fused together into solid units. These are very strong, but they are not flexible.
However, the segments in the neck, thorax and lower back (red, yellow and green) are separate, individual units, held together by flexible joints. Like other joints in the human body, the articular surfaces of these joints are covered in a layer of smooth cartilage; the joints are also lubricated by synovial fluid.
In addition to this, all of the joints in the spine are weight bearing; as a result, the neck, upper back and lumbar spine are all susceptible to osteoarthritis.
What are the risk factors?
The primary risk factors for osteoarthritis are:
- Previous injury
Ageing is a primary risk factor (however, it should be noted that osteoarthritis is not an inevitable part of growing older). Gender, or sex, is also a determinant of risk. For example, approximately 21 million people in the US suffer from osteoarthritis, but, of these, 16 million (76%) are women.
Excess weight (especially clinical obesity) will almost certainly lead to an increased risk of osteoarthritis. It literally forces the weight bearing joints together, causing the cartilage to break down more quickly. Injury to the joints (for example, caused by a sporting or car accident) can also affect the cartilage, leading to increased wear and tear.
Osteoarthritis accounts for half of all chronic conditions in persons aged over 65. Some 25% of people over the age of 60 have significant pain and disability from osteoarthritis.The economic consequences of osteoarthritis are enormous; for example, it is rated the highest cause of work loss in USA, despite being a condition that causes most problems to people after retirement age.Source: Bone and Joint Decade.
Finally, biomechanics, the way in which the joints move and distribute the weight of the body, is a primary risk factor. For example, if someone suffers from short leg syndrome, where one of their legs is significantly shorter than the other (typically > 5mm), this may, over time, lead to cartilage abrasion in a number of weight bearing joints.
Can it be treated?
It is unlikely that the effects of osteoarthritis can ever be reversed. However, both the rate of cartilage abrasion and the symptoms can be significantly reduced, by conservative forms of treatment.
Compression (of the weight bearing joints) is the single, largest risk factor that can be actively managed. We cannot, after all, change either our age or sex. If at all possible, excess weight should be lost by increasing your level of exercise, and decreasing your calorie intake. If your joints are already painful, then physical activity in a pool is a good idea as this reduces the weight carried by the joints in question.
Decompression of the spinal joints can be achieved by using the Backrack™ or by visiting a specialist in Orthopaedic Medicine. Both of these techniques are gentle, non-invasive and highly effective.
If you have spinal osteoarthritis, you may wish to consider treatment from an Osteopath or Chiropractor. This may relieve pain in the short-term, but we believe that the methods used are too violent to offer a long term solution. Ultimately, they may do more harm than good.
If you experience significant pain, analgesics (or Painkillers), especially NSAIDs (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs, for example ibuprofen) may relieve symptoms in the short-term. However, drugs will not treat the causes of osteoarthritis and, in the long-term, are potentially detrimental to your health.
Spinal surgery is most certainly not the answer. A Fusion, for example, will prevent arthritic joints in the spine from moving and (in theory) stop the pain caused by this; however, the fusion will almost certainly create more problems than it solves. We strongly recommend that surgery is avoided.