2004-03-05 / Community

Eye On Physical Therapy

By Tim Rohrs

Each month, I sit to write this column and wonder where it will lead. I try to think of what you, the reader, will find interesting. I also try to dispel health care myths, misconceptions and empower the patient to be an educated health care consumer. Last February my column talked about the herniated or bulging disc. People with an MRI confirmed bulging or herniated disc seem to have a perception that it is a life sentence to pain. You can read the entire column on the internet at http://www.sandspointpt.com/HerniatedDiscs.html.

To revisit the topic, there is a new study that was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago 2003 conducted by Francis W. Smith, M.D. Dr. Smith and his fellow Scottish re searchers took MRI scans of the lumbar discs of 154 10-year-old children in northeastern Scotland. These children were asymptomatic; without symptoms or pain. Nine percent of the children had disc abnormalities. These abnormalities included decreased disc height, nucleus pulposis degeneration, posterior protrusion and posterior bulging. Spine technology consultant Terry Corbin wonders if the label "disc degeneration" might be contributing to the over reaction to this new Scottish study. "It might be more appropriate to us the word "aging" instead of "disc degeneration" to describe changes in the discs" Corbin points out. No one re fers to the graying of hair as "hair degeneration" or loss of muscular strength as "muscle degeneration".

The label "disc degeneration" at best has a negative connotation, when really the disc is just going through the normal aging process similar to hair, muscles and bones. Our perception, through the use of this label, is one of it being abnormal, pathological and the cause of our aches and pains. In some cases, discs can be the source of pain. However, as evidenced by this study and many similar to it, the disc may show change but the person is pain free.


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