At some point growing up, most of us have our eyes checked, our teeth checked, our ears checked, and more. How many of us though can truly say that we’ve had our spine checked and have done so since a young age? Aside from the usual in-school scoliosis screening performed by the school nurse or the physical education teacher, the majority of us have never had a regular thorough and complete examination of our spine. As a result, most of us don’t know whether or not our spine is even in alignment.
Due to the relationship between your spine and your nervous system, changes in your spinal alignment can have significant adverse effects on your health. Obviously, symptoms like low back pain and neck pain are the two big ones, but even in the absence of regular pain there could be abnormal changes that should be addressed. In our office for example, we’ve had patients who appear completely healthy and have no history of back pain, until a simple action, like a sneeze or picking up a child, causes their back to spasm and their pain levels to shoot through the roof. These sort of seemingly innocent actions creating this type of pain are all too common, and are usually indicative of some sort of increased spinal stress resulting from abnormal alignment.
Although pain is a common symptom of spinal problems, it shouldn’t be the only focus. The presence or absence of pain is not a true indicator of health, and the other issues resulting from problems with spinal alignment are numerous. They include headaches, sciatica, pinched nerve pain, carpal tunnel symptoms and, at its worse, accelerated degenerative disc disease and arthritis. We need to move beyond regarding pain as the only symptom that matters, and start to look for more objective findings that let us know how our spine is positioned and functioning.
Ultimately this is something that your doctor will have to determine, and a doctor with a focus on spinal biomechanics, like a chiropractor, will be your best place to start. Here are the things that they should be looking for to determine your spinal alignment:
- Complete Health History: This is the most important part of any healthcare exam, and a spine exam is no exception. Are there any big injuries, like car accidents, in your history? Did you play any contact sports when you were younger? Do you have a job that has you sitting and working on a computer for long periods of time? These types of questions will help your doctor determine the amount of stress that your spine has to deal with.
- Motion Palpation: Just like your shoulders, knees or elbows, your spine has a normal range of motion, and the closer it moves to that, the healthier it is. Your doctor should feel how your spine moves, or what sort of restrictions to normal motion are present. Reduced motion in the spine is a classic indicator of increased stress.
- Static Palpation: The way a spine moves is important, but so is how it feels when it’s at rest. Are there any tender areas? Is there tension or muscle spasm in the surrounding soft tissues? Does one side feel raised in comparison to the other? Is there any swelling? All of these findings can be indicators of dysfunction in the spine.
- Posture: Your posture is a window into your spine. Regular x-rays and imaging are just not feasible so posture will be one of your best tools to regularly assess what position your spine is in. Advancements in technology have also created digital posture analysis, which allows doctors to analyze postural abnormalities to the degree or millimeter.
- X-Ray: X-Rays are the ultimate and best tool in determining your spine’s alignment. Much like postural assessments, technological advancements have allowed doctors to digitally measure your spine to determine any abnormal changes with exact precision. An x-ray will also be necessary to diagnose any anatomical changes, like arthritis, which may dictate the level of care required.
Some of these steps are more important than others, but ultimately they are all critical in determining not only how your spine is aligned, but how it’s functioning. Chiropractors will be your best bet for treatment of abnormal spinal alignment. They are the only ones with the training and focus on proper spinal biomechanics that are equipped to treat, strengthen, and stabilize any alignment issues. They will also be able to refer you to other doctors as needed, depending on the severity of your condition, and choosing to treat with a chiropractor can help you limit your exposure to potentially dangerous pain medication.
So if you have been dealing with low back or neck pain, or even if you’re just curious as to how your spine is functioning, call us at 302-368-1300 to set up a consultation now. Your spine plays an extremely important role in how your body functions, and any changes in alignment should be dealt with as soon as possible, before permanent damage can take place.
Dr. Travis McKay is a chiropractor and the clinical director of Advanced Back & Neck Pain Center in Newark, DE. He is also the president of Hands for Life – Omega Drive, a Newark based non-profit aimed at providing non-pharmacological pain management for members of the community. He can be reached at 302-368-1300 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.