Most people will, unfortunately, injury their spines at some point in their lives, often earlier in life when they are very active compared to later in life. In my experience, the injured later in life are just re-injury or aggravation of pre-existing problems. After physical trauma, the natural progression is for the body to repair the damaged tissue, whether it’s bone, ligament, or muscles and tendons and if the healing process is functioning at an optimal level and uninterrupted, and other than severe trauma we would expect to see a full recovery of the tissue.
The reality is however that the healing is not always optimal due to physiological conditions, like poor diet, lack of exercise or rehabilitation, or even chronic re-injury. This will then very likely result in osteoarthritis of the spine and even degenerative disc disease, leading to common symptoms like neck pain, low back pain, headaches, migraines, sciatica, and other neuropathies. In school, we were taught that arthritis (both the bone spurs and the disc degeneration) will never get better, only worse if not managed properly. However, I kept hearing anecdotal stories from doctors practicing in the field that they would see the bone spurs (spinal osteoarthritis) disappear from view on x-ray imaging after a period of time after undergoing regular chiropractic care.
While anecdotal it actually makes sense based on Wolff’s Law. Wolff’s Law states that your bones will adapt based on the stress or demands placed on them. When you work your muscles with weight-bearing exercise or activity, they put stress on your bones. In response, your bone tissue remodels and becomes stronger. (1) In contrast, if you take that stress away, and even the everyday stress of gravity, the bones will become less dense and weaker, such as the case for astronauts on long missions or people who are bedridden for prolonged periods of time. So based on this law, if you can remove the stress that’s causing increased bone, in this case, a lack of motion due to the altered biomechanics of the vertebral subluxation (aka spinal misalignment), the body will naturally reabsorb the bone.
There are in fact two published chiropractic studies that showed both a decrease in bone spur size and occurrence and well as increased disc height (2, 3). I have also now seen this in my practice several times as well! Check out this change I noticed in a patient this week.
See how the calcification goes away!?
This was 8 months between the two x-rays. Now to give you some background on this case, the patient is 39 years old, they had no history of trauma (oftentimes patients simply forget an injury they had years ago because it appeared to be minor at the time and had no lingering symptomatology, like a bike accident or a hard roller coaster ride) but he did have daily headaches, chronic shoulder stiffness, and periodic low back pain. By the time I took the follow-up x-ray, they were symptom-free!. It’s likely that this calcification was not completely “set in stone” versus an individual who has had a bone spur for many years, even decades, they spurs tend to get bigger, and they appear on adjacent bones due to the loss of motion and the stresses that occure the bone, discs, tendons, and ligaments.
Unfortunately for many who come and see me, their arthritis is likely here to stay, because it took 20-30 years to get that way and their stage of degeneration is advanced. However, I practice a preventative wellness model of care and I oftentimes find these issues at a stage of life that can potentially have an impact and make a difference, not only to their symptoms but more importantly long term, the health of their spines. This is exactly why I work with kids and young adults as well, since this is typically the period of time they sustain the injury. If I can help restore the motion with adjustments, we can be potentially avoiding advanced stages of arthritis for that individual, and a life of stiffness, swelling and pain.
If you have been injured or are dealing with a lot of chronic symptomatology I implore you to get evaluated by a Chiropractor who focuses on the structure and curvature of the spine as I do, and not just mask the symptoms until the point that surgery is the only option. The results could be life-changing!
1. Wolff's Law: https://www.healthline.com/health/wolffs-law
2. O.J. Ressel, B.Se., D.C., ICA Internat Rev Chiro 1989 (Mar); 45 (2): 39–61
3. Grace Syn DC, Jeffrey Harper DC & Curtis Fedorchuk DC
Annals of Vertebral Subluxation Research ~ April 13, 2015 ~ Pages 34-38