While doing research for this article I was reminded of the song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from the musical film Mary Poppins. “If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious” and the same for the title of this article. I came up with this idea because of all the names for having arthritis. Apparently there are 100 of them. But as the start of my title suggests, this article is about arthritis in the spine. We have spondylitis: inflammation in the spinal area and reputedly an autoimmune disease which includes so-called wear and tear; spondylosis: which according to some is not an arthritis; and akylosing spondylosis: presumably an autoimmune genetic disorder.
My ‘word’, Spinalspondylitisankylosingspondylosis, works with the tune of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and is a good way to remember all the main types of spinal conditions. And it’s better to sing it because I bet you can’t say it fast three times. Well, I know I can’t. Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay... which brings me to the first rule for recovering from an illness (of four I set-out in this article) and that is to have a sense of humour!
Arthritis is what most people say they have when they have pain in joints. The suffix ‘itis’ means inflammation, especially that caused by an infection. Inflammation is a sign that there is damage or something’s not quite right and the body is trying to fix it. It causes pain because the body wants you to know that it’s busy doing this repair or it’s in need of doing it.
Some say that vertebrae damage and joint damage/inflammation in the spine have two different names – spondylosis and spondylitis respectively, which is similar to the distinction between diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Although arthritis usually refers to inflammation of the joints, arthrosis does not mean when there is wear and tear or some other damage in joints, it just means a joint!
Spondylo means vertebrae or spinal column (not just one section of it). However, it would appear that authorities don’t agree about the definition of spondylosis. Wiki says that it is “a term referring to degenerative osteoarthritis of the joints between the centra of the spinal vertebrae and/or neural foraminae.” The NHS says it “is general 'wear and tear' that occurs in the joints and bones of the spine as people get older.” Patient.co.uk agrees with the NHS. However, the MedScape Reference website, says that Lumbar Spondylosis (lumbar in this instance meaning the lower spine) describes bony overgrowths (osteophytes) on different parts of the vertebrae. It also says that “Past teleologically misleading names for this phenomenon are degenerative joint disease (it is not a joint), osteoarthritis (same critique), spondylitis (totally different disease), and hypertrophic arthritis (not an arthritis).”
Osteophytes can grow on the facet joints in the spine as well as vertabrae and probably do in most cases of spondylosis despite references to dinosaurs having osteophytes on the vertebrae only! It is claimed that these bony growths develop because of age and degeneration, but many people in their 90s do not have them and I will show that there are ways to prevent osteophytes and all the other things that are involved in spondylosis and arthritis generally.
Ankylosing spondylitis (with ankylos being a Greek word meaning stiff) is a specific condition where the vertebrae end up becoming fused. I won’t go into this though because I don’t think it would add much to this discussion, but suffice it to say that it is a form of spondyloarthritis.
At this point, I think it would be helpful to talk a little bit about joints. There are three types in our bodies. Fibrous or immovable joints are in such joints as the sutures of our skulls and teeth in their sockets. The vertebrae in our spines and the hip joints are examples of cartilagenous joints which allow limited movement. And the freely movable ones are called synovial joints like the ones in our hands. We also have synovial joints in our spines called facet joints. Watch the short video for a good description of this (except that facet joints are not just in the cervical spine).
So the different types of arthritis generally are associated with different types of joints, parts of the body, causes of the disorder, and symptoms. I have a theory though that there is something related between them all because I have had symptoms everywhere from my little toes up to the top of my skull.
Unlike Dr Sell who I wrote about in my last article and who pooh-poohed the issue of what causes back pain in his video, I think it is vitally important to think about causes in order to develop a solution.
While doing this research, it didn’t take me long to discover that what joints all have in common is “Connective Tissue which is found throughout the body. In fact the whole framework of the skeleton and the different specialized connective tissues from the crown of the head to the toes determine the form of the body and act as an entity (Wiki).”
Among many other important parts of the matrix, connective tissue makes up cartilage which is the part of the joint that appears to be “worn away” as seen in X-rays and MRI scans. The connective tissue works in conjunction with the skeleton and muscles and the process is referred to as the musculoskeletal system. The second rule to recovering from an illness is to remember that everything in the body works together, not in isolation.
Furthermore, connective tissues are embedded in body fluids. The fibrous connective tissue that forms cartilage “is composed of closely packed collagenous fibers in a rubbery gelatinous substance called chondrin (Bailey).” It is easy to imagine that fluids keep changing, but so do the cells and other components of the connective tissue. This gives scope for either improvement or degeneration. The primary cells responsible for the production of connective tissue are called fibroblasts.
The story that unfolds when we look at fibroblasts is that they are formed from the primitive embryotic cells known as mesenchyme. They express an intermediate filament protein called vimentin to mark this mesodermal origin, which is also found in bacteria. Vimentin has been found to control the transport of the cholesterol package called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) for the cleaning up and repair work inside the fibroblast cells.
Studies of synovial fibroblast cells infected with Gram-negative bacteria that produce immune system activation (such as E. coli and Salmonella) have shown an increase in the synthesis of hyaluronic acid (for wound repair), glucose uptake and lactate output as well as accelerated growth rates, which is what happens in rheumatoid arthritis (i.e., the bacteria affects the synovial fluid, including that in the spine).
This leads me to autoimmunity which is another issue to consider here. The autoimmune response is when the body attacks it own tissues. A primary cause for this is a leaky gut which allows absorption of substances that can harm the body, for example, proteins and peptide complexes that like to attach themselves to collagen proteins. Connective tissues are largely comprised of collagen proteins and, as mentioned above, are spread throughout the body. So affected tissue in any part of the body can be and is attacked by the immune system because it works to clean out these invaders.
Toxins, many of which are the bi-products of harmful bacteria and fungi (such as Candida Albicans) but are not proteins are also absorbed from a leaky gut. They also like to attach themselves to collagen molecules. As they do so, they change the 3-dimensional structure of these molecules so that when the immune system comes along, it doesn’t recognise them and attacks them. The body cleans up by mobilising inflammation and repair.
Besides the Gram-negative bacteria mentioned above, opportunistic harmful bacteria such as Bacteroids and the Cholstridia family can invade the body through a leaky gut and cause disease including arthritis. In addition, the lysosomes (see diagram above) which break down cell waste and digest foreign bacteria rely on enzymes (a type of protein) to do their work, just as the gut does. Many drugs and poisons act as enzyme inhibitors as well as the above mentioned leaked protein complexes. My third rule is to make sure you have a healthy gut.
When it comes to arthritis and spondylosis, it is important to realise that “the skeletal portion of the musculoskeletal system serves as the main storage system for calcium and phosphorus and contains critical components of the hematopoietic system (for production of blood cells) (Merck).” I say this is important because I’m sure everyone has heard that calcium deposits on joints is a common issue with arthritis that generally results in the bony spur growths and/or enlarged joints.
It’s a bit of a conundrum, but it seems that the body deposits calcium around the joints when it utilises deficient amounts for its needs. In an interesting article by Lawrence Wilson (2011), he says that “In many instances, calcium is biounavailable. This means it is present, but cannot be used properly. This condition causes symptoms of deficiency and excess at the same time.” And he says that one of these symptoms is spondylitis (rigidity and inflammation of the spine).
Margaret Hills says in her book Curing Arthritis (1985) that the underlying cause of osteoarthritis (wear and tear) and rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation) is too much uric acid in the body due to improper diet. However, too much uric acid in the body relates to a specific type of arthritis called gout. Deposits of uric acid crystals are known as tophi which often form in the joints and cartilage. This condition is largely due to too much sugar intake as well as other dietary problems. It is conceivable that one could have calcium deposits and tophi at the same time and similar dietary corrections will deal with both of these issues.
The body normally is able to balance the nutrients it receives to the ones it needs, but if malnourished (meaning it does not get what it needs under the circumstances), it can no longer do this appropriately and that’s when abnormalities start to develop. So the fourth of my rules for overcoming illness is to ensure that you get proper nutrition. Please see my article called Simple Food Remedies for All Kinds of Arthritis.
In conclusion, there is much confusion around about what causes backaches with lots of medical terms and descriptions and I hope you can now understand why I started out with a laugh. It is true that the body is a complex organ and some of the detail can be helpful in understanding issues. However, to be healthy is basically simple because it all boils down to giving the body what it needs, avoiding that which harms it and letting it do the rest! The name given to the particular type of arthritis is unimportant. People have been on this planet for millennia and we should have figured out what our bodies need by now especially when there seem to be so many clever people around (much cleverer than me).
I would like to add that there is a lot of rubbish on the Internet and in the medical profession when it comes to back pain. An example is in my article called Back Sufferin Succotash, but another one is an article by the Laser Spine Institute in which they say that “Erosion and degeneration of the soft tissues of the spine are a natural part of the aging process.” I hope that I have shown in this article that the soft tissues, vertebrae and joints don’t just get worn away as if we’re supposed to start sitting in rocking chairs all day when we get older to protect our bodies from further wearing out, and spondylitis/arthritis is not something that just “sets in”.
Finally, with reference to the work done by the dentist Weston A. Price where he examined dental arches in populations around the world and found deformities due to the faulty diet of the parents and in early life, we may be born with such deformities in any part of our anatomy, including the spine. So in this respect, an inclination to having arthritis in the spine may have started before birth because it is in some way malformed. However, it’s not genetic, but rather nutritive. It may be that we cannot reverse a deformity entirely, but I believe that we can all live in a healthy, pain-free manner naturally and maximise our potential. There is hope for everyone.
Rule Summary for Recovery:
1. Keep a sense of humour (positive mental attitude);
2. Remember that everything in the body works together, not in isolation, and that it is in a constant state of change;
3. Ensure that you have a healthy gut; and
4. Ensure that you get proper nutrition (by eating whole foods).
Photo credit: Connective Tissue
Photo credit: Lysosome in a Cell