I conducted a small experiment this week by showing two spinal X-rays to nine different chiropractors.
I asked them to review each film and tell me how old they think the patients are based solely on their spines. What I didn’t tell them was that the films actually belong to the same person… a 15-year-old high school freshman.
Here are the two images I showed them. Image #1 is the side view of her neck. Image #2 is the side view of her lower back:
Without any hesitation, all nine of the doctors guessed that the patient in image #1 was in their mid-40’s. Their guesses for image #2 varied slightly, but were in the same ballpark, ranging from “adolescent” and “college student” to “no older than 25.”
The reason that doctors can make these estimations is because it takes a certain period of time for different spinal changes to become visible on x-ray. Alterations in bone shape, the formation of bone spurs, disc thinning, and curvature reductions don’t simply happen overnight. They’re adaptive changes that occur slowly due to mechanical stress or injury.
After collecting all of their answers, I revealed to them that these images belonged to the same person. Each of them expressed concern after hearing this news. It’s troubling to see someone this young with a spine that looks so “old” (relatively speaking).
I decided to get some additional perspective; this time from a pediatrician who works at an award-winning pediatric hospital. The doctor, who admittedly has limited experience evaluating spinal X-rays, was surprised and intrigued that a teenager could have such noticeable structural changes, and showed concern about the level of pain this young girl may have by the time she reaches 25-30, if left untreated.
So Why Am I Telling You This…?
A lot of parents assume that kids couldn’t possibly need a chiropractor because they’re too young. It’s a mistake, however, to correlate the “need” for chiropractic care with age. No matter how young or old a person is, spinal misalignment leads to altered function.
Altered function ushers the way to altered physiology, and when given time, altered physiology induces pathology.
Fortunately, in the case of this young patient, we have the opportunity to begin making specific adjustments and can rehab the spine with proper stretching and corrective exercises to slow down (and possibly halt) the progression of these changes. But the only reason we discovered this problem was because her mom was open and willing to let her daughter benefit from a chiropractic evaluation.