Hippocrates is quoted as saying “Look well to the spine for the cause of disease.”
But why the spine? What does it have to do with our overall health?
Well, let’s look at what the spine does. The spine not only provides stability for and dictates the upright posture for our bodies, but serves as protection for our nervous system. Think about it like a case of armor around the system that controls and coordinates every function of your body from digestion to the ability to raise your pinky. This system that is the master controller is your nervous system, and it communicates through signals between the brain and body.
Unlike a case of armor, however, our bodies can move easily and freely. Why is that?
It’s because your spine isn’t JUST bone. You have ligaments, muscles and cartilage that allow for that movement. A driving force behind the ability to move are the discs that are between most levels of the spine.
Unfortunately, these structures can be injured by a big trauma like a slip and fall or a car accident or by repetitive overuse (a fancy way of saying doing the same thing repeatedly every day- like factory workers or seated workers) or chronic inflammation from things like a poor diet. These factors all lead to swelling in the disc’s tissues and in the tissues surrounding one specific spot. Swelling naturally leads to inflammatory changes. These changes including temperature, tenderness over top of that spot, a loss of motion, and visual swelling. The swelling here can lead to slight misalignments of not only the vertebra, but the disc as well. These changes are not big enough to be herniations and will likely not show up as such on an MRI.
This inflammation, swelling, or misalignment can put direct pressure on the nerves or cause an inflammatory cascade, releasing chemical mediators that can stimulate the nerve and even indirectly stimulate the brain. The slight alteration in positioning can also cause an increase in the firing of nerve receptors known as proprioceptors which gives the brain feedback from the structures in the body.
What happens when it’s not taken care of? When we ignore these changes you can get increased degeneration of discs and scar tissue formation in that area. Studies have shown that we can get scar tissue formation in less than three weeks. We also get compensatory reactions to help our body move. In essence because our body is so intelligent it’s always adapting, other spots will “pick up the slack.” When the other spots in our body pick up the slack it can lead to even more muscular imbalance and a further increase in discomfort.
What can we do to fix or prevent it?
(1) If you are having a situation described above, go see a chiropractor to get your spine evaluated
(2) Make sure your work space is set up properly for you- see the ergonomics post on this blog from a few weeks a go
(3) Take breaks at work to get up and move or at least stretch at your desk.
(4) Make sure you are not eating a pro-inflammatory diet. This will be discussed in a post later this week, but you can also find low inflammatory recipes on this blog space.