A recent study shows that the prevalence of osteoarthritis in humans has doubled since the mid-20th century. Dr. Ian Wallace, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, thoroughly examined over 2000 skeletons from 3 different time periods to be able to confidently reach that conclusion. He looked at nearly 200 skeletons dating back to prehistoric times as well as the early industrial era and post-industrial era, which included many skeletons from the early 2000’s. Dr. Wallace found that the modern specimens had more degeneration than both of the older groups of skeletons, even with accounting for the fact that there has been a general increase in obesity in modern times and that we are also living longer. This has lead Dr. Wallace to believe that preventing osteoarthritis may be much more possible than we originally thought. So, then why is arthritis on such a rise in today’s world and how can we try to prevent it?
Before we tackle that question, it is important we understand the big picture of what osteoarthritis actually is. Osteoarthritis is not a pathology. It is an adaptation. Let me explain.
Between each one of the vertebrae in our spine is a disc. The discs in our spine are shock absorbers and help our joints to move properly. More importantly, a healthy thick disc gives each vertebrae proper space apart from one another. This is so important because this space is what allows the nerves exiting from our spinal cord to function well so the brain can clearly communicate with the rest of our body. These discs are filled with fluid and get their nutrition only through proper motion in our spine. The problem is that stress from our everyday lives (physical, chemical and/or emotional) can cause the structure of our spine to shift, tilt, or twist, now making the structure of our spine abnormal. These abnormal structures, if left uncorrected, will begin to develop arthritis much sooner than someone who has a healthy spinal structure. Why? Because the abnormal joints can no longer move/function the way they were designed to causing them to lose much of their fluid and nutrients. As our discs lose more and more fluid, they get thinner, and therefore the vertebrae move closer together causing an increased pressure on our exiting spinal nerves. Our body does not like this at all. Eventually the discs will become so thin to where our vertebrae “adapt” and form a build up of calcium – our bodies’ last resort to attempt to preserve whatever disc space is left to help our nerves function well. Sadly, these calcium deposits will eventually grow into one another creating a fusion of vertebrae.
So why has the prevalence of osteoarthritis doubled since the mid-20th century? I believe it is because, overall, our daily stressors are significantly higher than they have ever been. According to Johns Hopkins University, the typical American today has more stress in 30 days then then their grandparents had in an entire lifetime. Need some examples? As a country, we have become extremely lazy and irresponsible with our diet. Hundreds of new fast food restaurants are opening each year because we are a society that wants our food instantly. Another example is our technology. Phones, computers, iPads, etc… seem to be essential in today’s world. A big problem with all of this technology is we were never taught how to use it with proper posture. Think about how many hours every single day you spend looking down at your phone. These are just two examples of chemical and physical stress that many of us invite into our lives on a very regular basis. All stress will negatively affect the structure of our spine. So if trying to prevent arthritis is something you are interested in, I think the best question to ask yourself is, “What can I do to make sure I have a healthy structure to my spine?”
Out of all the professions in the world, chiropractors are the greatest experts in supplying proper motion to your spine and allowing your nervous system to function the way it was designed to. As a corrective chiropractor, I adjust every single practice member of mine differently because everyone’s spine is different. The doctors here at Align adjust everyone based off of their x-rays. This is how we are actually able to correct abnormal structure of the body. As the spine corrects, it is inevitable that you will feel better, but you will also then have proper motion in the spine which will prevent osteoarthritis from ever occurring or progressing.
I hope you found this article helpful and gained some new knowledge from it. I also invite you to let your friends and family know about this article by sharing it on Facebook.
Dr. Lance Neubauer