There are many stages and levels of severity to arthritis, but they all include degeneration or wearing down of the joints. The type of arthritis that I am specifically referring to is osteoarthritis. There are other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid and psoariatic, that also include degeneration of joints, but for different reasons outside of just normal wear and tear.
Every bone in the spine connects to the one above it through two joints called facet joints. These joints are similar in structure to other joints in the body, such as the knee or hip. These joints have cartilage, synovial fluid (or the lubrication of the joint), tendons, ligaments, and muscles. These facet joints are the joints that “pop” or “crack” during a chiropractic adjustment.
The vertebrae also connect to the spinal discs in between each bone that act as cushions. When arthritis starts to set into the spine, the discs begin to harden and provide less cushion. The cartilage in the facet joint also starts to wear down. The body then begins to send calcium to the area of degeneration to help build new bone and stabilize the joint. This is a natural process that the body undergoes to help protect the area but can actually work as a natural fusion process over time and cause more harm than good. Some individuals may have some level of this degeneration in their spine but feel no pain. However, once the area has begun to deteriorate, if an injury to the area occurs it can make it much more difficult to recover.
Arthritis symptoms include a dull ache that is worse in the morning, after heavy physical activity or with changes in weather, air pressure, moderate joint stiffness, and swelling. In severe spinal arthritis cases, there can be neurological symptoms such as numbness and tingling into your arms or legs. This is referred to as stenosis, and typically requires more treatment than just chiropractic care alone.
Chiropractors cannot reverse the effects of arthritis. Our job is to make the tissue that is left as functional as possible. When you have arthritis, motion is lotion for the joints. Chiropractic treatment includes manipulating the joint to induce motion, as well as releasing tight muscles surrounding the joint, and strengthening weaker muscles.
We encourage our arthritic patients to keep moving and to use regular chiropractic care as a recovery and spinal maintenance tool. Although we cannot reverse arthritis, chiropractic care can help slow the process and give you some pain relief along the way.