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During our lifetime, our spines are required to withstand considerable weight-bearing stresses. As a result of these stresses, arthritis (also known as spondylosis or degenerative disc disease) occurs in all parts of the vertebral column. At the Back Pain Centre Sunderland our osteopaths and massage therapists spend a lot of time dealing with the pain and suffering caused by arthritis. Many people mistakenly assume that arthritis is untreatable. In many cases, with the correct treatment we are able to help considerably.
The Intervertebral discs (IVD’s) are the first to undergo changes, usually around the age of 40, followed later by the spinal joints and bony vertebra, from the ages of 50-60 onwards.
Degeneration is usually well-established by the age of 70. The IVD will lose its ability to absorb fluid as the chemical makeup and internal architecture of the disc changes in response to repetitive stresses. As a result, the normally resilient disc will become tougher, more fibrous and less able to respond to weight bearing load.
Spinal joints and vertebra form new bone around their edges. The new bone increases the size of the joint, and vertebrae, creating a larger surface area to hold weight, and increasing the overall stability of the spine. The new bone, called Osteophytes, form in the shape of spurs around the edges of the joints and vertebrae.
The effect of degenerative changes in the disc, joints and bony vertebrae leads to the characteristic feeling of stiffness and reduced overall movement of the spine.
How severe will the degeneration be?
Just like any part of our body, the better we take care of our spine over our lifetime, the less degeneration is likely to happen. Regular Spinal MOTs, a healthy lifestyle, moderate physical exercise and good nutrition help to reduce the effects of “wear and tear” on our spines as we age.
Causes of accelerated spinal arthritis:
Very physically demanding work and exercise have also been shown to predispose to more severe degenerative changes in the spine.
Excess weight (especially clinical obesity) will lead to an increased risk of osteoarthritis as it forces the spinal joints together, causing the cartilage to break down more quickly.
Previous spinal joint injury (for example, caused by a sporting or car accident) can also affect the cartilage, leading to increased wear and tear.
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, this may, over time, lead to cartilage abrasion in a number of spinal joints.
1. Exercise. Non-weight bearing exercise, such as swimming, is beneficial for people with arthritis, but more ‘alternative’ exercise, such as yoga and pilates, can help too.
2. NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are often used to treat the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis. Although inexpensive and effective, there are often side effects. Studies indicate that NSAIDs not only reduce the body’s ability to repair cartilage, but also increase the degeneration process itself, so may worse the condition in the long-term.
3. Nutrition. Dietary changes can provide the nutrients needed to repair damaged joint tissue. Excess body weight adds to the stress on joints, so losing weight can be beneficial.
4. Eat kale, artichoke, celery, turnip greens, mustard greens, lettuce, millet, barley, almonds, cherries, pineapple, blackberries, blackcurrants, limes, olive oil, and gelatin.
5. Avoid sugar, dairy products, refined foods, fried foods, “junk” food, caffeine, spinach, asparagus, rhubarb, and the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. They contain alkaloids that may interfere with joint repair.
6. Drink at least 2 litres of water per day.
7. Supplements While many supplements and foods are unproven as arthritis treatments, there is good evidence in favour of a few. These include:
o Glucosamine hydrochloride assists in cartilage regeneration. Stock from boiling bones from soups and stews provides a natural source of these raw materials. Take 500 mg 3 times daily. It may take up to 6 weeks for symptoms to improve.
o Methylsulphonylmethane (MSM) is a natural form of organic Sulphur. People with osteoarthritis have lower than normal concentrations of serum Sulphate and synovial Sulphur levels. MSM helps increase the synovial fluid level of Sulphur in joints, inhibits the enzymes that lead to cartilage destruction, helps build connective tissues and reduces pain by inhibiting the transmission of pain messages via nerves.
o Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) help reduce the degenerative changes in tissues and cells. They also aid in decreasing the inflammatory response thereby helping relieve pain and discomfort in joints and muscles. EFA’s can be found in oily fish, (sardines, herrings, mackerel), and seeds. Take 2 – 3 teaspoons per day.
o Natural anti-inflammatories such as Devil’s claw and Boswellia. Devils claw is used extensively as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. Boswellia contains active ingredients called ‘Boswellic acids’. Studies have shown that Boswellic acids have an anti-inflammatory action, much like the NSAIDs used for inflammatory conditions.
How we can help
At the Back Pain Centre Sunderland our team of osteopaths, chiropractors and massage therapists to treat the cause rather than simply addressing the symptoms. Once the spine’s alignment is improved through joint adjustments and massage, the joint will have a great deal of stress removed from it.
This results in reduced swelling, a more freely movable joint and usually a reduction in symptoms and in the rate of spinal degeneration.
Remember Pain is a warning, do not ignore it. Regardless of the degree of degeneration, it is never too late to take proper care of your spine and to help reduce the effects of ageing.
The information provided is for general guidance only and must not be used for diagnosis or treatment of a health problem. This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.