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Since making Aliyah to Haifa from the United States in July of 2009 with my wife and three children, I have given thousands of chiropractic spinal treatments to Israeli patients ranging in ages 2 weeks to 95 years. I have seen enough x-rays, CT scans and MRI’s to tell you that in my 20 years of practice I have never seen the degree of spinal damage as I have seen these past four years, especially amongst the younger population.

Patients in their early 20’s are showing up in my office with spinal damage that usually occurs with normal aging in the 40 to 50 year old group, including damage to the cartilage (the discs) between the spinal bones that give stability to the spine, act as shock absorbers, and protect the nerves. Many patients experience radiating pain from the spine to the arms and legs and spinal degeneration problems which are normally seen in the later years in life. Many people are taking pain killers on a daily basis, which have undesirable side effects, and frequently miss work due to the pain. Besides the financial loss involved, this also leads to significant mental and emotional stress.

“I never had any back problems until I got out of the military”

I keep hearing the same thing from many of my patients: “I never had any back problems until I got out of the military.” Although not all patients that I have seen have suffered spinal injuries due to military service, an alarming majority of them have. There is no question that the physical, mental and emotional stress one has to endure in service is causing damage. The long hours and heavy backpacks that soldiers are required to wear during training put abnormal pressure and stress on the spine that lead to injury.

Symptoms of spinal injury

Symptoms associated with spinal injury are:

  • Neck pain
  • Upper and lower back pain which are sometimes accompanied with pain, tingling and/or numbness to the arms, hands, legs and feet
  • Headaches, migraines and insomnia are also symptoms of possible injury to the neck.

These two x-ray images of the low back show the difference between a healthy spine (Fig 1) and one with spinal damage (Fig 2).

The healthy spine has wide spaces (the dark spaces) made up from normal spinal discs between the spinal bones (the white square shaped areas) that cushion our back, act as shock absorbers and protect the spinal nerves. The damaged spine shows a decrease in space between the two lower spinal bones from damaged, flattened, dried out discs.

It all begins in school

Although spinal damage is more evident during and after the military, it doesn’t begin there.  It begins when young school children carry backpacks that are too heavy for them. The backpacks are loaded with too many books and the children lean forward in an attempt to balance the weight on their body so that they can walk. This places abnormal stress on their spine. Sooner or later these kids will end up with spinal problems including:

  •  Scoliosis– From carrying the backpack on one shoulder only
  • Nerve damage in the neck and shoulders resulting in pain in those areas-From backpack straps that are too thin
  • Stress fractures in the spine– Too much of a weight load on the back

In my practice I see children between the ages of  10 to 17 that complain of neck and back pains that are not normal for this age group, unless there is a congenital spinal deformity or if the child was involved in an accident.

And gets worse due to dehydration

Your spinal discs are mostly water and will dry out and break if you do not drink enough. Early signs of disc damage in an MRI show up as a loss of water in the disc.  To determine how many liters you need per day, divide your weight (in kilograms) by 30 (ex. somebody weighing 70 kg is going to need 2.3 liters per day). You’ll know your body is well-hydrated if the color and odor of your urine is neutral.

There is no substitute for water

Drinking carbonated drinks in place of water damages your spine over time. The phosphoric acid in the soft drinks stimulate your body to remove calcium from your bones in order to balance the abnormal acid build up in the blood. This weakens your spine and leads to future problems.

Soft drinks, coffee, juices and flavored water are NOT replacements for the real thing!

Simple solutions to prevent spinal damage and unnecessary suffering for you and your children

 Children

 Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 15% of their body weight.

  1. Buy a backpack with wide shoulder straps.
  2. The backpack should be worn in the upper to middle back.
  3. Buy a backpack with a waist belt, if possible.
  4. If your child complains of neck pain, back pain or headaches, don’t ignore them. Get them checked immediately.
  5. Make sure your child drinks enough water.

Adults

  1. Drink water!
  2. If you experience symptoms of spinal injury that I already mentioned, don’t  ignore them. Get yourself checked.
  3. Although taking pain medication may help you feel better for a short while, unless the root of the problem is corrected, you may suffer damage to your spine that will be difficult to fix in the future and may affect your quality of life in the long term.

Dr. Jacob Hans is a family chiropractor trained and Board Certified in the United States. He is also a member of the Israel Chiropractic Society.  Dr. Hans specializes in treating problems of the spine. You may reach him at his Haifa clinic on the Carmel at 054-940-1289.