Subluxation Degeneration is a representation of one type of subluxation. As defined by the Association of Chiropractic Colleges, a subluxation is "a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health." When a subluxation occurs, it causes nerve interference in some portion of the body affected by those nerves. As a result, the subluxation causes changes to the structure and the nerves.
These changes progressively worsen as time is allowed to work on the subluxated area of the spine. These changes form ongoing degeneration known as "subluxation degeneration." Understanding the type and amount of changes makes it possible to reasonably estimate the time subluxations have been present in a spine. Having this information helps understand the time and effort needed for correction.
This is a side x-ray view of the neck. As with all the pictures on this page, the patient is looking to the right of the screen, so you are viewing the right side of their neck. We will call this picture a "near normal" spine. Compare this spine with the ones you will see below on this page. Notice the normal forward curve of the neck. This curve helps absorb shock. Notice how each disc space between C2 (the second bone in the neck) and C7 is thick and even. This, again, is normal. Also, notice how the front portions (right on the x-ray) of each vertebra (called the 'body' of the vertebrae) are fairly square with clear and well-defined borders. This type of arrangement is typical in the neck. Normal vertebrae in other parts of the spine also have similar characteristics to what we see here. When subluxations occur and are left uncorrected, ongoing relentless changes occur that result in damage to the structure and function of the spine, along with nerve damage and the resulting problems caused by improper nerve supply.
Phase One - Subluxation Degeneration
Phase One Subluxation Degeneration is seen in subluxations that have been present for up to twenty years. This phase is characterized by a loss or change in the normal curve in the spine. In this example, you can see that the normal forward (lordotic) curve is lost. This spine even has developed a reverse curve in the neck. The disc spaces have also begun to exhibit a slight change in shape. One good point is that the bodies of each of the vertebrae (the square part in front) still show clean, clear borders. Segmental motion may be abnormal, but overall motion is probably not affected. Chiropractic reconstructive care for phase one can take from 6 to 18 months. Over 80% of people with Phase One Subluxation Degeneration have no pain. Therefore, if left uncorrected, phase one progresses with time until it eventually reaches the next phase.
Phase Two - Subluxation Degeneration
Phase two subluxation degeneration is commonly seen in subluxations that have been present between 20 and 40 years. This phase has some of the same characteristics as the previous phase, including a loss of normal curvature and position and an alteration in segmental motion. In addition, spines with Phase Two Subluxation Degeneration often show a reduction in the patient's range of motion in that area. X-rays of phase two begin to show calcium changes or buildup at certain levels of the spine. These changes are sometimes called by many names, including spurs and arthritis. In addition, disc spaces between the affected vertebrae are noticeably narrower and may appear to be flattening out. Although most people with Phase Two Subluxation Degeneration may not exhibit any symptoms, some may feel stiff or achy. Chiropractic reconstructive care for patients in phase two ranges from 1.5 to 2.5 years. Again, if Phase Two Subluxation Degeneration is left uncorrected, it slowly advances to the next phase.
Phase Three - Subluxation Degeneration
Phase Three Subluxation Degeneration is caused by subluxations that have continued for between 40 and 65 years. This phase has all of the attributes of the previous phases, only worse. The curvatures are abnormal. The disc spaces are vastly decreased and changed. Calcium changes on the spine are abundant in this phase. Typically, people in phase three have a restricted range of motion and probably exhibit symptoms of some kind. In phase three, the vertebrae show noticeable changes and mutations in shape. Projections made of calcium, sometimes called "spurs or lipping," can be readily seen on x-ray. Chiropractic reconstructive care for patients in phase three ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 years. This does not mean that any or all of the calcium changes will be gone at the end of this time. The body often adapts to calcium, and positive changes can only be measured from a functional standpoint. If Phase Three Subluxation Degeneration is left unchecked, it slowly advances into the next phase.
Phase Four - Subluxation Degeneration
Phase four subluxation degeneration is seen with subluxations raging on uncorrected or altered for over sixty-five years. Phase four is a grave condition that will negatively affect the patient's longevity and quality of life. The massive amount of neurological damage caused by years of subluxation that have led to phase four is probably taking a severe toll on this person's health status. X-rays in phase four show profound, severe structural changes. Vertebrae exhibit massive calcium changes, disc spaces appear blurred, and the bones appear fused. In this scenario, the patient will have a severe range of motion restriction in addition to several other health issues. Reconstruction may not be possible in phase four, but care can be directed to some reduction in subluxation with the goal of improving the remaining quality of life. Patients in Phase Four Subluxation Degeneration have a serious structural and neurological situation, but they are certainly not beyond hope. Many patients in phase four report significant improvements in symptoms, conditions, mobility, and quality of life.
It should be noted that the above are general guidelines and not definite rules. Every person is dynamic and different. People degenerate at different rates and heal at different rates. The further along your spine may be with subluxation degeneration, the more strenuous and time-consuming your road to improvement will be. For this reason, we always stress early care to stop and prevent the advancement of subluxation degeneration. Of course, if you're not under chiropractic care, the best time to start is NOW!