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Spinal Condition – Spinal Degeneration

Quick links for Spinal Conditions:
Back Pain, Pinched Nerve, Sciatica, Scoliosis, Slipped Disc,
Spinal Degeneration, Trauma, Whiplash.

Soon after the discovery of the x-ray, chiropractors began using this tool in the examination and care of the spine.

Besides revealing the presence or absence of proper spinal curves, x-ray views of the spine can more easily show the long-term effects of neglected spinal trauma and it’s subsequent degeneration.

Think of it as Spinal Decay
This degeneration process of the spine has similarities to tooth decay in that it shows up usually because of neglect. Also, like tooth decay, it can happen to anyone, regardless of age.

It is often seen in older people and many believe it is merely part the normal aging process. Often though, chiropractors will see one vertebra showing decay and the next normal. It appears this degeneration is the result of uncorrected spinal subluxation and is caused by the body dealing unsuccessfully with the stress placed on the spinal joints.

Three Phase Process

Spinal decay is a process. Chiropractors use the three-phase model based on the book Managing Low Back Pain, by W. H. Kirkaldly-Willis and Thomas Bernard, Jr., plus Anatomico-Roentgenographic Studies of the Spine, by Lee A. Hadley, M.D. We find that it makes the distinction between each phase great enough that patients can appreciate the differences.

Text Book Normal
While this process can occur anywhere in the spine, it’s easiest to see in the cervical (neck) spine. This is what the side view of the neck should look like. From the side, the neck should have a graceful forward curve. The edges of each bone are well defined. There should be equal disc spacing between each bone and the openings for nerve roots should be clear and unobstructed.

A textbook ’normal’ side view of the neck.

A textbook ’normal’ side view of the neck.


Phase One
In Phase One there is a loss of the normal curve and a reduced ability to turn and bend. In some cases, the disc space between adjacent vertebrae may be reduced, or, discs can become wedge-shaped thereby inviting more serious soft tissue damage. Depending upon the body’s adaptive capacity, pain or other obvious symptoms may not be apparent. Even the resulting reduced range of motion may be too subtle for many to notice.

The first noticeable change is a loss of normal cervical curve.

The first noticeable change is a loss of normal cervical curve.


Phase Two
If neglected, in Phase Two joint surfaces lose their clearly defined edges as the early signs of bone spurs become visible on X-ray views. Some believe that the body senses the accompanying inflammation as the sign of a broken bone. It begins the process of depositing calcium salts, which leads to roughening at the margins of the vertebrae.

Adjacent joint surfaces become rough and uneven.

Adjacent joint surfaces become rough and uneven.


Phase Three
If still left uncorrected, the problem worsens in Phase Three. Amazingly, pain or other obvious symptoms may not yet show up.
Finally, the body successfully ‘mends the broken bone’ by depositing ‘healing’ calcium salts which leads to further reduction disc space, and in turn, compromises the adjacent nerves.

This process can take years. This evidence calls into question the claim many patients make “I was fine until last week when I bent over to tie my shoes”. That is not what the X-ray tells us.

The affected bones have lost their individuality and ability to move.

The affected bones have lost their individuality and ability to move.


The Prognosis
Some patients who begin chiropractic care in Phase One discover a restoration of their spinal curves and improved range of motion. Success with Phase Two patients is less predictable and depends on many factors. While we can do little after decades of neglect with Phase Three cases, we instead turn our attention to those areas of the spine that have not yet been lost to the process.

It is neither possible to predict what effect, if any, chiropractic care will have on slowing, stopping or reversing this process nor can a particular phase indicate how much care will be needed.

Frequently Asked Questions:

? Can chiropractic repair bone spurs?

Bone spurs and other arthritic change to joints throughout the body is a common response to long-standing malfunction. While no research exists, restoring proper joint function is hoped to at least slow this degenerative process.

Appointments – Anthony Papaleo at East Bentleigh Health Group
884 Centre Road, East Bentleigh | (03) 9579 3999 |