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Arthritis begins in childhood!

What the…!  Arthritis in children?  Is that even possible?  Sounds like a paradox.  And yet, research confirms that it isn’t just possible… it’s probable!

Osteoarthritis, or spinal degeneration, commonly touted as “wear and tear”, is a process most of us associate with aging.  And yet, as chiropractors, we see evidence of the early beginnings of this process in kids as young as six and seven years old.

Research shows spinal degeneration is detectable in at least 35% of people by age thirty.  Given that the first 5-10 years of this process are undetectable on x-ray, it stands to reason that these numbers are actually much higher.  This is confirmed by the fact that nearly 100% of us have some amount of osteoarthritis by age 60.

These statistics are bad enough, however a study by Lawrence a few years ago shockingly revealed that spinal degeneration can be seen on x-ray in at least 10% of fifteen year-olds.  Based on our understanding of the early beginnings of this process, most chiropractors will tell you the figure should be closer to 50%.

Translating that last statistic for you, this means that almost 5 out of every 10 teenagers already have the beginnings of arthritis developing in their young spines.  This is not as shocking when we understand that the processes of spinal degeneration often, if not usually, begin in childhood.

So what is causing this phenomenon of spinal degeneration in our kids?  And most importantly, can we slow it down, stop it, or even possibly reverse it?  Thankfully, the answer is yes, yes, and yes.

The notion of osteoarthritis as “wear and tear” is actually a common misconception.  In reality, science has shown that it is actually a self-contained and self-directed remodeling process.  In essence, it is your body attempting to repair and stabilize a joint that has been either damaged or is under undue pressure and no longer functioning properly.  In the spine, this is commonly due to an alteration in a vertebra’s normal movement or alignment, which leads to abnormal stresses at the joints and discs.  Chiropractors often refer to these areas of abnormal function and misalignment as “subluxations“.

The earliest subluxations usually develop in childhood as a result of knocks, falls, and injuries.  Infants may acquire spinal subluxations through uterine constraint or birth trauma.  And in older kids and teenagers, the leading cause of spinal subluxations is poor posture.  It is now quite evident that the aches and pains we suffer as adults are actually the result of small unresolved joint problems that we picked up as children.  Just like cavities in your teeth – you don’t even know they’re there until a pain develops down the line.

Just like your dentist checks for cavities, chiropractors check their patients for subluxations.  If areas of problematic joint function or spinal misalignment are detected, chiropractors use gentle and precise techniques known as “adjustments” to safely and effectively correct the joint.  When function and alignment are properly restored, the process of degeneration will halt.  In many cases, and especially in children, normalized joint function can lead to a process of joint regeneration capable of reversing the effects of previously established degeneration.

Early detection is key.  A chiropractic examination for your child can identify problems while they’re still easily correctable.  If your child complains of an ache or a pain, do not assume it is a minor problem.  It is often a warning bell that should alert you to have your child assessed.  The other rule of thumb is to have your children assessed regularly.  A chiropractic check-up every 3-4 months (depending on the activity level of the child) is a fast and easy way to ensure your children are subluxation-free and in good musculo-skeletal health.

Dr. Eric Kelly is a Doctor of Chiropractic at Glanmire Chiropractic Clinic. The Clinic specialises in the treatment, management, and rehabilitation of all forms of physical pain and injury, including back pain, neck pain, headache, sports injuries, arthritis, joint and muscle pain, postural problems, and much more.

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