If you are reading this blog, chances are you already know the importance of movement in your own life. That is one of the reasons why we all do what we do, right? Yoga, Pilates, Running, CrossFit, Biking, Dancing, you name it… it’s all good!
When we’re talking about spinal movement, it’s important to talk about whether we mean movement of the whole spine in total (global motion) or the motion taking place at each spinal joint (segmental motion). Both global and segmental spinal motions can include flexion (folding forward), extension (bending backward), lateral flexion (bending to the side) and rotation (turning) or a combination of these four motions, like extension + lateral flexion.
Often times, and in ideal conditions, global and segmental motions are one and the same (you flex your neck, dropping your chin to your chest and each of the vertebrae in your neck moves in flexion in the amount that it is supposed to… different segmental levels of the spine have different degrees of each range that are appropriate depending on their job, but that’s a discussion for another day).
Unfortunately, there are times when our joints become subluxated – or lose their ability to move through their full range of motion. How a joint becomes subluxated is definitely enough information to discuss in its own post, so I will save that for another time as well. For now, one way to think about a subluxation is to picture the specific joint in question as a door. In order to be a fully functioning door, a door needs to be able to completely open, completely close, and to gently glide through the entire range between open and closed. A “subluxated door” could look like a door that is closed, but won’t open… a door that is fully open and won’t close… or a door that is stuck in any range in between. Now we can talk about what happens when you have a joint that won’t move through its complete ranges of motion on a segmental level and what the consequences for that loss of motion can be.
Intervertebral Discs (IVDs) are the gel-like shock absorbing pads between the bodies of most of our vertebrae (I say “most” rather than “all” because as with all things in life, there are some exceptions and some segments don’t have discs between them). IVDs require movement during waking (upright) hours to maintain proper hydration. As we move, fluid is drawn into our discs in a process called imbibition, helping the discs to remain the squishy little shock absorbers that they are born to be. If we don’t move (especially for long periods of time… think sitting at a desk 8 hours/day), as we age our discs can become dry, inflexible and brittle, losing their lovely (and important) shock absorbing capacity. The overall takeaway message here is that decreased motion and decreased axial loading result in disc degeneration, and sadly, IVD degeneration begins as early as the second decade of life. This has huge implications for the amount of inactivity faced daily by kids, with their physical structure still developing.1
When a joint is not moving through its full range of motion, we still move our bodies through the same global ranges (golf swing, forward fold, swan dive, kettle bell swing, etc). So where, then, is the body compensating for this segmental loss of motion? At the joints above and below the fixed joint! When one motion segment (set of joints at a particular spinal level) is not able to move to its fullest capacity we don’t stop moving and we expect to be able to reach the same ranges… so the joints above and below the level of subluxation/fixation become “sloppy” or hypermobile to compensate for the stuck spot. These joints above and below become less stable and more prone to injury and the accompanying sensations of pain and discomfort as a result of having to pick up the slack again and again for their subluxated neighbor.2,3 It’s easy to see why professional athletes and people who really value the long term function of their bodies utilize chiropractic care to keep all their joints moving (people like Tiger Woods, Jerry Rice, Mary Lou Retton, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky to name a few… even Kim Kardashian gets it – although we’ll get to talking about the “believe in” portion of her comment at some point on the blog).
The big take away message here is that fixation/subluxation at one motion segment can lead to degeneration of the IVD at that joint and hypermobility/destabilization at the joints above and below the fixed motion segment. This is why getting a good workout is not the same as getting adjusted… it is also why nothing is really the same as getting adjusted. SO, this is why the wonderful work I do is important… not just for back/neck pain or after a car accident or for “old people” (whatever that means)… but for everyone and anyone with a spine, who wants to age well and maintain function in their joints.
Chiropractors like me are uniquely trained to assess, detect and restore motion to individual joint segments in a controlled and specific way. There are many different techniques available and your preference in how you receive your chiropractic adjustment is unique and valid. From very light and gentle to more dynamic approaches, there is a style and a chiropractor for every person who would like to find one. I am committed to working with you to find your preference and to help get you moving again – both segmentally and globally. If you think I might be the right chiropractor for you, feel free to schedule an appointment with me at Spark Wellness online at www.sparkwellness.net, contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 612.321.6913.
Be Well and Take Care!
Martha DeSante DC, CYT
1Twomey L & Taylor JR. (1990). Structural and mechanical disc changes with age. J Manual Med, 5, 58-61.
2Kotani, Yoshihisa MD; Cunningham, Bryan W. MS; Cappuccino, Andrew MD; Kaneda, Kiyoshi MD; McAfee, Paul C MD (15 March 1998). The Effects of Spinal Fixation and Destabilization on the Biomechanical and Histologic Properties of Spinal Ligaments: An In Vivo Study. Spine, 23, 6, 672-682.
3Chou, Wen-Ying; Hsu, Chien-Jen; Chang, Wei-Ning; Wong, Chi-Yin. Adjacent segment degeneration after lumbar spinal posterolateral fusion with instrumentation in elderly patients. Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery, 122, 1, 39-43.