Mechanics, chemistry and your spinal destiny
I’m an old guy now. And I’ve been treating patients since 1987. After seeing more than 40,000 patients, and being a patient myself, I’ve had a long time to ponder why people have the spinal and musculoskeletal problems they do. Why do some people’s spines and physical bodies degenerate faster than others? This spinal and musculoskeletal degeneration results in pain and disability, and a poorer quality of life, so, for old people, sooner or later, there aren’t many more important issues than this.
I’m going to identify the factors we know are determinants in your degeneration, explicitly, from the spinal science literature, and those factors we know, implicitly, as a simple application of basic science. The purpose of this is to help anyone who is interested in improving their spinal health because the potential for regeneration is not lost during our lifetimes. And the younger we start thinking about our lifelong welfare, the better.
For spinal health, there are two large inputs that make a difference. One is mechanical/physical forces. These forces can be good or bad. For example, you can injure your spine with forces that are injurious, such as a football player hitting another player, helmet-to-helmet, resulting in a neck injury to the disc, cartilage, and bone. Injuries of a lesser magnitude, can occur from sleeping on your abdomen, with your neck turned for hours every night.
Conversely, some forces can be beneficial. Done thoughtfully, weightlifting exercises can stimulate beneficial adaptations that make your spinal tissues better and less vulnerable to injury. There are also some spinal problems that can be improved by sleeping in corrective positions.
Degeneration and regeneration are relatively slow processes. The status of your spine on any given day is the net effect of many daily inputs, both good and bad. With some thought and deliberate action, you can tip the balance of influences to net positive.
Mechanics, chemistry and your spinal destiny.
Your spinal status is also evolving in the context of your body’s metabolic efforts at repair. This is the second, broad category of inputs into your spine, and one I never hear discussed, but it is fundamental to all health.
You’re probably aware of the newer field of “regenerative medicine”. This field is using various means to enhance regeneration of tissues. It has various efficacy, depending upon the problem and method of treatment, but the implication is that chemical, cellular, and metabolic inputs have eventual, meaningful, anatomical benefits.
My point is that you can improve your spine by using both of these general approaches, i.e. mechanical and chemical. The mechanical means are several. First, spinal decompression or tractioning your spine, in animal models has been shown to cause regeneration of spinal discs, as measured by chemical markers of regeneration. Spinal decompression also causes an increase in cell division; the cells that are synthesizing the chemicals of regeneration. So spinal decompression is one favorable, regenerative influence you can use.
Another, mechanical influence is specific to each person’s spinal anatomy. For these recommendations, we have to look at your x-rays or MRI scan and decide if there may be some better sleep postures to assume and avoid.
All these things require some attention in our busy lives. But, at some point, when you’re older, your physical limitations may demand your attention. The longer you wait, the more patient you’ll have to be in expecting to see any favorable results. But there is always potential to improve. Then you have to hope that those improved inputs translate in a reasonable time frame, to appreciable symptomatic improvement.
The last topic I want to address is the chemical inputs, specifically the food we put in our bodies. Our physiology is ever-busy and brilliant. All of these physiologic processes depend upon more than 40 essential micronutrients thus far known. And, of course, we need the right amoount of macronutrients, i.e. protein, fats and carbs.
Diets with higer concentrations of micronutrients are better than diets with lower concentrations of micronutrients.
Over the last 100 years we have accelerated our consumption of poor food, and we’re also being misinformed about the nutritional value of food. 60% of our calories come from sugar, flour and seed oil. These are all poor foods in micronutrient concentrations, and they accelerate degeneration.
Our species grows evermore estranged from our nature, our needs and our interests. Our ancestors ate better. We ate better on farms. We need to eat more nutrient-dense foods if we want to regenerate our bodies. Every day that we don’t eat nutrient dense foods, results in net degeneration.
If you want to rebuild your body, and even make healthier children and grandchildren, go back to recipes that prepare these items. By the way, in the olden days, before our extended families disintegrated, and processed foods turned us into their victims, we ate more nose-to-tail when we consumed animals. And smarter animals like Killer Whales, will swim up to Great White Sharks, and take a bite right out of their right abdomen, to eat their livers, and leave the rest of the shark for the fishes. That is the kind of evolutionary, ancestral intelligence still known to wild animals, like whales and lions and other predators, but which we have forsaken, to our tremendous detriment. Perhaps worse, our species degenerates, progressively, with future generations who eat this way.
In closing, some injuries can’t be prevented, but do your best to tip the scales in your regenerative favor by eating a nutrient dense diet. We don’t know, quantitatively, how much a poor diet is contributing to spinal and bodily degeneration. But it is very logical to think our present diets provide a parsimonious explanation for so much that is wrong with us, such as spinal degeneration and surgeries, hip and knee replacements, osteoporosis, anxiety, depression, autoimmunity, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia and more.
As for treatment when you need it, spinal decompression is the best you can do for an aging spine. If you need treatment for your neck or back pain, call 404-558-4015.