This question is frequently asked by patients visiting a chiropractic clinic. To answer this question, let’s first talk about the word, “arthritis.” The word arthritis is derived from two roots: “arthro-,” meaning a joint, and “-itis,” meaning inflammation. So, the word arthritis means the swelling or inflammation of a joint.
Over 100 different types of arthritis have been identified by research. Some types of arthritis are simply associated with the aging process, while others are secondary to other diseases and conditions. The most common types of arthritis are: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid, lupus, gout, juvenile arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis of the spine, and fibromyalgia.
The type of arthritis that affects almost the entire senior population is osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis is basically the wearing out of the joint space or cartilage pads between the bony surfaces. Osteoarthritic changes, including bone spurs and disc degeneration, are commonly found after serious spinal injuries or long-standing spinal imbalances.
The next most common type of arthritis is rheumatoid, which is an auto-immune disease where the person’s antibodies attack the joint (and possibly other tissues as well). This can occur at a young, middle or older age, whenever the body is triggered to produce the joint attacking antibodies. Rheumatoid arthritis is often characterized by disabling pain, with joints that are distorted or completely destroyed.
Can chiropractic help some forms of arthritis? The answer is a definite yes. This is especially true with osteoarthritis and disc degeneration. Arthritic spinal joints often become fixated, or stuck, because of misalignment and biomechanical changes. Chiropractors work on the affected areas of the spine to restore motion and mobility by using specific spinal adjustments to free up those areas of altered spinal biomechanics that are producing pain. Chiropractic treatment is especially helpful for those patients that are experiencing back or neck pain that is associated with stenosis (pinching and narrowing of nerve openings), disc degeneration, and restricted ranges of spinal mobility.
Many chiropractors are now utilizing very gentle tapping instruments, an “Activator” or electronic “Impulse”, for specific spinal adjustments. This type of precision spinal care is very safe and effective for spinal arthritis because there is no “snapping or cracking” of the vertebrae.
Chiropractors will also evaluate your posture and lifestyle, making specific recommendations that may be very beneficial in your care. I always tell my patients to do the most conservative care first. Try gentle spinal adjustments, postural changes, simple stretching exercises (walking and swimming), structural supports and ice before you consider addictive narcotic drugs, expensive imaging tests, and corticosteroid injections.
The best approach to the management of arthritic pain should always include a great chiropractor on your health team. You may also need to get advice on the foods that tend to cause inflammation in the body. Drugs will help to reduce inflammation, but the long-term side effects may outweigh the benefits.
[Dr. Craig W. Brue, an author, lecturer, and chiropractic physician in SaddleBrooke, AZ]