[originally published in KCN, December 2007]
Chiropractors have long known that spinal adjustments can help stave off, slow down, and sometimes reverse the devastating effects of osteoarthritis — but it took a group of rats to prove it.
Now, I know that not all readers may agree with animal experimentation — especially the use of rats, in light of the rat friendly movie that was just released on DVD — but the truth is, we owe much of our medical knowledge today from our studies on animals.
Osteoarthritis affects nearly 21 million people in the United states. It accounts for 25% of the visits we make to our primary care physicians and half of all NSAID prescriptions. It goes by many different names (degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc disease, degenerative arthritis, and spondylosis) — but, perhaps, the most descriptive, and easy to understand, is the term “wear and tear” arthritis.
This infamous rat study was published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics in the 2004 March/April edition. A group of chiropractic researchers, lead by Gregory Cramer, DC, PhD, out of the National University of Health Sciences, set out to learn more about this prevalent arthritic condition — and how chiropractic might play a role in fighting it.
The human spine consists of 24 movable vertebrae. Having a back bone which is segmented like this, affords us incredible flexibility — allowing us to bend and twist in many different ways. Sometimes, however, some of these vertebral segments will bind, lock up, or move out of position. We chiropractors call this a “subluxation” and it’s what we treat or “adjust.” More correctly, it’s known as the Vertebral Subluxation Complex. It’s referred to as a “complex” because many different things occur when these vertebrae stop moving: joints inflame, muscles spasm, nerves pinch, and mechanical wear and tear ensues. It’s this “wear and tear” aspect that the researchers were most interested in.
Dr. Cramer and his colleagues enlisted the help of nearly 100 Sprague Dawley rats, and devised a way in which they could “lock” up the rats’ lower back vertebrae in much the same way that a subluxation would. With the ingenuity of their specially designed and engineered stainless steel external linking system, they could then, at a specific time interval, “unlock” the vertebrae to restore motion — much the same way a chiropractic adjustment would.
After studying many different variables, here’s what they reported. The researchers found that locking up the vertebrae did, indeed, cause notable arthritic changes to take place — changes that grew in extent and severity the longer the vertebrae were locked. When the researchers unlocked the vertebrae, reversal of these arthritic changes was seen in some rats, but not in others. The longer the vertebrae were locked, the less likely the reversal. Eventually a period of time was reached in which no amount of reversal was ever observed, regardless of how long the vertebrae were later unlocked.
The researchers commented that “This lack of remission, once a critical time threshold was reached, may be clinically significant and emphasizes the potential importance of maintaining intersegmental motion through the application of spinal manipulative therapy.” In other words, when it comes to arthritis in the spine: motion is good; no motion is bad — especially if you wait too long to do anything about it.
Of course, as with all studies, further research is needed — but, “Good job, rats!”
Since 1895, chiropractors have known the value of unlocking a stuck joint — having a favorable affect on the progression of arthritic changes is just one of them. And for the record — just so there’s no misunderstanding — as a rule, most chiropractors don’t treat rats.