Spinal degeneration pervades society at unprecedented levels.
While many people think this condition only concerns the elderly, this is no longer the case. A recent study showed that nearly 40 percent of 20 year olds currently have degeneration of the spine.1
A review of the extant literature indicates there is a substantial link between spinal degeneration and a sedentary lifestyle.2-4
Since the introduction of computers and cell- phones, office workers find themselves in degenerative postures all day.
Whether a person is sitting at a desk working on a computer or looking down at a phone for a long time, degeneration is an undeniable and fast-growing problem.
Unfortunately, adults are not the only ones at risk of spinal degeneration. A recent study by researchers in Scotland found that almost 10 percent of 10 year olds showed evidence of spinal degeneration.5
As children seem to be exchanging exercise for computer and video game time, it is unsurprising that their spines are showing signs of damage and decay.
Considering these trends, the question is whether anything can be done to combat the effects of spinal decay. The first step is to look at another field in healthcare that has done something similar: dentistry.
In the early 1900s, tooth decay was at epidemic levels. Rapid industrialization led to mass food production and processed sugar became a staple in everyone’s diet.6
As a result, the dentist’s primary job in that era was pulling teeth. Dentists were so busy performing extractions that they rarely had time for much else, such as lecturing patients on preventive methods. In 1906, a dentist named Alfred Fones was exhausted with this process, so he invented a way to prevent—or at least reduce—the occurrence of tooth decay.7
Only a few decades prior to Fones’ revelation, the cause of tooth decay had been discovered. A researcher by the name of Willoughby D. Miller, DDS, MD, discovered that an acid byproduct expelled by bacteria was the culprit.8
Following this discovery, many dentists looked for ways to combat the process of decay. Others lacked motivation as there was so much money to be made just from pulling teeth.
After Fones (considered to be the father of dental hygiene) trained his cousin to do teeth cleanings in his office, the dental hygiene revolution began in earnest7
At first, most dentists rejected the idea that tooth decay could be prevented and, as previously mentioned, some felt threatened by it and feared they would be put out of business. Of course, the concept of dental hygiene did eventually catch on, and today most people keep their teeth because of it. Dentistry is now primarily about preventive care and, interestingly enough, it is the second-largest healthcare profession in the world.9
So what does all this have to do with chiropractic care? The similarities between dental health and spinal health should be obvious.
Recall that spinal degeneration is occurring at epidemic levels in today’s society similar to the 1900s, when dentists were faced with an epidemic caused by lifestyle changes. Ultimately, they addressed this issue and bettered society.
The spinal hygiene model
It is time for chiropractors to do something similar for spinal health by creating a movement that makes “spinal hygiene” a household term.
This movement should promote overall spinal health and create a foot- print for the chiropractic profession that is as big or bigger than the one dentistry created for itself over the last 120 years.
In fact, if this movement doesn’t get traction soon, the health of our next generation may be at risk.
You might have concerns about the cohesiveness of ideas among all chiropractors, as many have diverse theories and interests; however, spinal health—or hygiene—is a foundational premise among all chiropractic endeavors.
If chiropractors start educating patients about the concept of spinal hygiene, then their practices and society will reap the benefits. There are three basic concepts of spinal hygiene, and it is reasonable to assume that most professionals will agree on their practicality and medical benefits.
The three foundational concepts of spinal hygiene are as follows:
- The spine should be in It should be straight from the front and should have natural curves from the side. Any anatomy book will have an image of the spine in this proper alignment.
- The spine should be able to move through its full range of Decreased range of motion is accepted as a negative finding during an exam. The spine should move symmetrically and fully through all three planes of motion.
- The muscles around the spine should be strong and postural and core muscles are a vital part of spinal health. The muscles around the spine should be balanced and strong.
The above thus defines spinal hygiene as the set of practices associated with preserving and maintaining spinal health, which involves both home spinal care and regular chiropractic check-ups and adjustments.
Tabor Smith, DC, is a trailblazer in the subject of spinal hygiene. He owns and runs two of the largest chiropractic offices in the state of Texas, where he has treated thousands of patients and developed some of the life-changing lessons he teaches today. To learn more about spinal hygiene and how you can educate your patients, build retention, and grow your practice, contact Smith through spinalhygienemovement.com.
- Brinjikji W, Luetmer PH, Comstock B, et al. Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. Am J Neuroradiol. 2014;36(4):811-816.
- Tomkins-Lane CC, Lafave LZ, Parnell JA, et al. The spinal stenosis pedometer and nutrition lifestyle intervention (SSPANLI) random- ized controlled trial protocol. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2013;14(1):1-22.
- Buchholz AC, Horrocks J, Ginis KA, et al. Changes in traditional chronic disease risk factors over time and their relationship with leisure- time physical activity in people living with spinal cord injury. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2012;37(6):1072-1079.
- Tremblay MS, Colley RC, Saunders TJ, et al. Physiological and health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2010;35(6):725-740.
- “Shock Over Disc Degeneration in 10‐Year Olds (n.d.).” The Back Letter. http://journals.lww.com/backletter/Citation/2004/01000/Shock_Over_ Disc_Degeneration_in_10_Year_Olds_But.1.aspx. Published January 1, 2004. Accessed May 11, 2017.
- Adler CJ, Dobney K, Weyrich LS, et al. Sequencing ancient calci- fied dental plaque shows changes in oral microbiota with dietary shifts of the Neolithic and Industrial revolutions. Nature Genetics. 2013;45(4):450-455.
- Dental hygiene at 100: who was Dr. Fones? The Free Library. https:// www.thefreelibrary.com/Dental+hygiene+at+ 100%3a+who+was+Dr.+- Fones%3f-a0316665198. Published 2014. Accessed June 23 2017.
- Siqueira JF, Rôças IN. Microbiology and treatment of acute apical abscesses. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 2013;26(2):255-273.
- NBCE: About chiropractic. National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. http://www.nbce.org/about/about_chiropractic. Accessed May 11, 2017.