A Tale of Two Spines

Dr. Michael BucknellChiropractic, Education Center, Liberation Newsletter, Physical10 Comments

As of this week, I’ve officially been in practice for 20 years. There certainly is a reason it’s called “practice” as there are lessons that only TIME can teach you. Recently I had one of those stark realities that I’d like to share with you here.

I had a patient who just came back after almost 18 years. First I’m going to show you the x-ray from 2006. I asked the patient and she agreed to share, as she wanted everyone to know her story so they don’t default into the path she did.

Some of you might not know what you’re looking at, so I’m going to teach you what to look for on this lateral cervical x-ray (side view neck). In counting vertebra, the slanted line is going through the Atlas or C1 just below the skull. The large vertebra right below is C2, then C3 and so on.
– A normal curve in the neck is 45 degrees. The minimum “safe zone” for cervical curve is 34 degrees, beyond that a loss results in elongation of the cervical spinal canal which causes “stenosis” or narrowing of the spinal canal around the spinal cord space just like pulling on a chinese finger trap. This stenosis restricts the flow of cerebrospinal fluid causing “demyelination and neuronal loss of the spinal cord“. As seen here, her curve in 2006 was -6 degrees or what we call a “reversed curve”.
– That curve provides shock absorption within the spine, allowing you to take the impact of upright posture under gravity much like the suspension on a car. Without this curve, the vertebral bodies and disc spaces between the bones (front of the spine) are compressed instead of the force being absorbed by the facet joints and the hyaline cartilage between them (back of the spine). On this film you can see the earliest sign of degeneration particularly at the C6-C7 space.
– When the vertebral bodies are under constant load, they will gradually collapse under the weight as they’re full of bone marrow (spongy) as opposed to the facet joints which are solid bone (think solid rock). This collapse is like stepping on an empty can, the sides folding in under the load. On this film you can see especially the C5 vertebra curved in on the front.
– As the wear increases on the front of the spine, and the disc spaces lose height (due to hydration loss from overloading pressure), Innate Intelligence expands the endplates of the vertebral bodies to stretch and “tighten up” the laxity in the degenerating discs. We see this as “bone spurs” on the front corners of the vertebral bodies as seen easiest here at the bottom edge of C4.

I know that’s a lot of information which you might not fully understand without looking up the terminology, but those are the basic premises. The bottom line is, degeneration is a “mechanical failure” and therefore is completely and totally predictable. In this patients case, she told me that I described ALL of this to her when I saw her in 2006. She said that I told her what was going to happen, where it would happen, and what she needed to do to fix her curve so it wouldn’t progress (as we do with all patients). Well life happens, she got busy, she decided to go to another Chiropractor that was closer to her for convenience.

She continued under intermittent Chiropractic care, but more for pain relief as opposed to corrective oriented care. Gradually as the years went by she grew stiffer, had the same returning and worsening problems, until eventually she came to realize that she was getting worse and remembered what I had told her. So 2024, she decided it was time to make the change and come back for reassessment. Below is her film after 18 years of progressive degeneration.

You really should scroll up and down a few times to see the difference, but I’ll summarize here:
– Normal curve being 45 degrees, she went from -6 degrees to -22 degrees.
– Where before just C6-C7 was visibly reduced, that level is no longer visible while almost every other level has deteriorated severely.
– Where before only the C5 vertebra was showing collapse, it’s now severe from C3 through C7.
– Where before only a small spur was visible at the bottom lip of C4, there are now very large “bird beaks” from the bottom edge of C3 through the upper edge of C7.
– Imagine the spinal cord having to contort through that now severely S-shaped curve. Imagine what 18 years of progressive restriction of cerebrospinal fluid (oxygen and nutrient supply to the spinal cord) has done to the health and function of her nervous system.

What I didn’t tell you is this patient is just 58 years old. The damage that you see to the spine, and the damage you can’t see on x-ray to the spinal cord and nervous system, sadly can not be reversed. What’s done is done, all we can do now is work backwards to get back anything we can to prevent further deterioration. See the research shows that the spine is designed to last 80 to 120 years with little to no degeneration when it’s mechanically sound. The spinal curves are so efficient that they absorb shock from running jumping etc with hardly any effect. These mechanical principles are the same laws of physics in effect that keep bridges, dams, and buildings standing for decades or even centuries. Hence the “Tale of Two Spines” as I indicated in the title of this article. Below is the x-ray of another patient that also started care around the same time.

This patient is not 58, she’s 71. This patient is well on her way to that 80-120, as there are no significant signs of spinal degeneration. Is she lucky, does fate unfairly favor her, genetic superiority maybe? No, it’s none of the above it’s merely again that degeneration is predictable based on the principles of spinal mechanics. The lesson here is that no matter where you are, it’s so very easy to see where you are headed. Having now been in “practice” for 20 years I can tell you I’ve seen it all ways. There’s patients with great spines who do what they don’t necessarily need to because they want to keep what they’ve got. However this few is greatly outnumbered by the vast majority who despite telling them where they’re headed and what they need to do, they don’t (won’t) do it. No matter how we try to educate, we can only do so much and it’s up to the “hearer” what sinks in.

Do you hear me?

Now offering Decompression Therapy

Spinal decompression really kicked off in the 90s with commercials advertising “Vax D” as a non-surgical alternative to intervertebral disc surgeries. This machine was just a large flat bench with handles overhead to hold on to while you only lay face down to be pulled. In those days the machines were almost $200,000, were mostly used by MDs and hospitals, and treatment sessions would be as much as $400 due to the price (and “new”ness) of the tables. Even then, $8,000 for 20 sessions was a worthy price to pay to avoid surgery.  

Fast forward 30 years and the technology has vastly improved. The latest table we purchased, the KDT Neuroflex allows positioning face down, face up, side lying, upside down for cervical traction, and both the head and foot of the table flex up or down to offer limitless options depending on the best positional preference. Despite all these advances, and increases in effectiveness, the tables have dropped massively in price offering lower cost of treatments. This fact alone is likely why these days you’ve seen them fall out of favor in medical clinics. Same reason the flavor of choice for diagnostics has moved away from MRI (which now can be done in small clinics for about $400) to CT (which run $2,500-$4,000). It’s much more lucrative to do a spinal surgery in the tens of thousands of dollars, then to make a few hundred dollars on decompression. No brainer.

So for those with disc issues, or for those you know that are trying to avoid surgery, decompression is now better and more affordable then ever before. A typical protocol is anywhere between 8-20 sessions depending on the problem. The retail price each session is only $100 now but is not covered by insurance (after 30 years they still consider it “experimental” haha). HOWEVER, we now have a discount program called Patient Options DMCO that all patients fall under free of charge which covers anything not covered by insurance by an additional 40% off bringing it down to just $60 a session. At that price, it would take you more than 130 sessions now to hit $8,000! Wild isn’t it?

Time to take action?

Just this email alone gives dozens of reasons worth not just money, but years of functional LIFE, why you and your family should maintain regular Chiropractic care. Call us today 251-607-0040 and let us help you get back in front of your health. Chiropractic care is affordable, simple, has little to no risk, it’s literally the easiest step you’ll ever take to improve your health and wellbeing. NOW is the time, later always costs you more. Pick up the phone and call us or schedule online HERE. See you soon!

About Dr. Michael Bucknell

Doctor Bucknell is a licensed and board certified Doctor of Chiropractic, well-known wellness expert on radio and TV, accomplished author, patent-holding inventor, and entrepreneur. He is extension faculty of Life University, served as the USA Judo, Wrestling, and Weightlifting team's Wellness Advisor and Team Doctor, and NBC Local 15 Gulf Coast's correspondent at the 2012 London Olympics.