Chronic joint pain without obvious trauma sends us searching answers
By: Dr. Darin Stokke, DC (Lifestyles Healthcare Group)
Our joints are amazingly designed points of movement in our body that allow us to stand, walk, bend, talk, lift, hug, and even take a breath of air. Incredibly, there are a total of 360 joints in our human body with 86 joints in the skull alone. So what happens in these joints during our lifetime to cause them to break down or create pain and is replacing the joint with an artificial joint the best course of action in most cases?
A joint is comprised of two bones coming together and separated by a space filled with cartilage. For example, in the case of the hip this cartilage is called the labrum and in the knee it’s called the meniscus. This joint space is maintained so that the bones can smoothly glide over one another during necessary movements allowing the joint to move through its full range of motion. Surrounding the joint are ligaments located at stress points to create stability and keep the joint from dislocating as well as muscles crossing over the joint to contract and relax causing the joint to move and to remain stable in different postures. When a joint is pushed beyond its normal limits due to a trauma such as a sports injury or car accident, we typically will feel acute pain caused from trauma to one or more of these tissues in the joint. A sprain involves a ligament stretched too far causing tissue damage. Likewise, a strain involves a muscle stretched too far. Cartilage can also tear due to traumatic forces. These are acute injuries that cause short term pain and swelling to the area traumatized. But what about chronic pain that seems to come out of nowhere and progressively worsens?
Chronic progressive joint pain without obvious trauma is what most often sends us searching for an answer. It may start with taking pain relievers (NSAIDs) every day to get us through a round a golf and up the stairs without pain. Next, we may try steroid injections in the hope it will give us a few months of relief before we need another shot. Finally, when all else fails to relieve the pain, we believe our only option will likely be joint replacement surgery and we go in for an x-ray or MRI scan. This is the day we lose hope of ever managing this conservatively again. It’s the day when we are told by our medical provider that our x-rays or MRI show the joint is “bone on bone” and that this is ultimately the cause of our pain. The solution is to get an artificial joint replacement for the faulty joint. It seems logical enough. In fact, statistics show that more and more people are opting for joint replacement surgeries. According to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics Data, hip replacement surgeries alone have increased at a rate of 250% over just a 10 year period. It’s estimated that by 2030, the number of primary hip replacements carried out in the US alone is projected to grow by another 171%. However, have we ever considered that most of these joints diagnosed as “bone on bone” may not really be “bone on bone?” Have we ever wondered if the pain began some time ago and the joint wasn’t bone on bone then, then why is that now considered the cause of pain?
In a 2005 study from the Boston University School of Medicine, researchers found that only 16 percent of people with hip pain had x-rays that truly confirmed osteoarthritis and “bone on bone” findings. So what was really causing the pain and which came first, the pain or the degeneration of the joint? Consider that structural variations are likely caused by a breakdown in joint alignment and the movement patterns of the muscles involving that joint. We have found that most joint pain is not the result of osteoarthritis but rather of the constant micro-trauma of the soft tissues due to muscle imbalances creating poor posture and faulty movement patterns. Over time the result is the joint tissues break down, but the pain and stiffness were there long before the joint degenerated. Because of this, no matter how long you’ve had the joint pain, there is tremendous hope that joint replacements can be avoided altogether. We have found that combining the new science of regenerative medicine along with the necessary retraining of the whole body movement patterns, alignment of the joints, getting nutrients for joint health, and balancing the postural muscles, joint pain can be eliminated for good without risky surgery. As always, look for the true cause and the best solution for a long term high quality of life!