We’ve all heard it somewhere before, while some of you may have actually said it yourselves: “My knee hurts because it’s full of arthritis,” “the doctor said I have degeneration in my lower back,” or “I take pain medication every day because there is nothing else I can do.” Unfortunately, for many, this story is all too common. In fact, it is estimated that osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), affects more than 20 million Americans. The problem is that people often present to their doctor with significant pain and limitations, receive an X-ray, and are told that their pain is the result of arthritis. In certain instances, such as a bone spur rubbing against a rotator cuff tendon, arthritis can be the underlying culprit. However, more often than not it is simply an incidental finding. Like disc injuries, research shows that the presence of OA, or lack thereof, does not correlate with pain severity. A person with minimal arthritis can experience significant discomfort, while someone with rampant OA throughout their entire body may experience no pain at all. In fact, by the time we reach age 70 the likelihood of finding OA on X-ray is 100% (regardless if symptoms exist or not).
An important thing to remember, when dealing with OA, is that bone does not spontaneously develop in a haphazard fashion. A scientific principle, known as Wolfe’s Law, states that new bone forms in response to the stress that is placed upon it. This theory helps to support the fact that weight bearing exercise can slow the development of osteoporosis. It also explains why we develop OA asymmetrically throughout the body, primarily in areas of high stress. A man who works with hand tools his whole life may develop OA in his fingers, while a woman with tight hips, who stands on concrete for multiple hours on end, may develop OA in one or both of her knees.
A common myth about OA is that it only affects older individuals. While OA is more prevalent in populations 65 and older, it can also be found in younger individuals who possess certain risk factors. These risk factors include being overweight (increased demand on the joint’s cartilage), a lack of functional exercise, and prior injury to the involved joint (some of the stress we discussed above). Fortunately, by losing weight and introducing exercise (further supporting weight loss) you are able to significantly reduce your likelihood of developing OA. In fact, exercise is one of the best forms of treatment for OA. Low impact exercises, such as walking and water aerobics, help to develop muscle support around a joint while simultaneously improving joint mobility. Increased muscle density also improves metabolism, which further facilitates weight loss (thereby reducing your risk of OA even further).
Along with the addition of exercise, it is also important to make chiropractic care an essential part of your OA treatment/preventative plan. Typically, when the average person injures themselves, they ignore the pain in the hopes that the injury will resolve itself. The problem with this is that the body is miraculous in its ability to compensate, and avoid pain. It does whatever it can, for as long as it can, to keep you functioning day to day. For example, someone who injures their heel might shift their weight slightly forward on the foot when walking. Although this change in gait reduces the initial heel pain it can cause the calf muscle to tighten up, which in turn increases stress on the knee. This stress causes decreased joint movement in the knee, which may eventually lead to hip or low back injury.
Doctors of chiropractic are trained in conservative treatments, such as chiropractic adjustments, soft tissue trigger point therapy, and exercise instruction, with the emphasis on restoring proper joint mechanics. By treating the root cause of the injury, rather than simply masking the symptoms, we are able to promote proper tissue healing and potentially avoid stressing other regions of the body. With a background in forensic chemistry, I also find it important to instruct my patients on proper diet, nutrition, and supplement choices. In fact, the daily consumption of certain foods, such as garlic, has been found more effective at reducing OA related pain and inflammation than most over-the-counter pain medications. A systematic review, recently published in the British Medical Journal, also found high quality evidence that Tylenol is ineffective in treating low back pain, yet places significant strain on the liver.
For more information on treating osteoarthritis/musculoskeletal injuries, weight loss, chiropractic care, or to schedule your appointment today, give us a call at (570) 601-4091.