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Your Child’s First Spinal Exam

In our community, it is common knowledge that prevention is the best cure.  But this is an evolving model: as we gain more information about health and disease, we must update our ideas about what should be included in an effective long term strategy for health and wellness.

Prenatal testing, healthy lifestyles, good nutrition are all now encouraged as part of a preventive model of health for both pregnant moms as well as babies and young children. This has not always been the case.

150 years ago, no parent would have thought of taking their 3 year old child to the dentist.  Dentistry was perceived as a trauma/crisis intervention: dentists pulled rotten or damaged teeth.  Today it is common knowledge that children should have regular dental check-ups to identify problems at the earliest possible time and to instill healthy dental hygiene habits.   Dentists taught us that it is easier to keep healthy teeth healthy than to get sick teeth and gums well again.

Imagine stepping into a time machine and going back to the 1850’s.  You strike up a conversation with another parent and you happen to mention your child’s dentist.

“Dentist?  Why does your child need a dentist?  Did she chip a tooth?”

“Why no, we just take her to the dentist for preventive care”

“Preventive care?  But her teeth are brand new!  What could possibly have gone wrong with them in the few short months that she’s had them?  Plus, those teeth are not even permanent!  They’re going to fall out anyways!  I’m sorry, dear, but I’m afraid you’re being fleeced!”

For all your good intentions, and despite the fact that you are right, your chances of convincing that person of the value of early dental care for children are remote.  They are burdened by the momentum of the collective ignorance of their time.  Only after a critical mass of people choose to take a philosophical risk and consider the weight of the argument outside of their cultural bias, will that idea have a chance to compete.

So here we are today, with an emerging model of prevention and health care, and yet we are still back in the 1850’s when it comes to our ideas about our kids’ most important organs: their spines.

Dentists attempt to identify early tooth decay and alignment problems with the teeth because they know that the earlier the problem is detected, the easier it will be to fix it.

What about the potential for children to develop spinal problems?  Should children be examined at regular intervals during their growing years to identify spinal problems which may progress to become serious,  permanent problems?  Unfortunately, the generally accepted view is that one visits the chiropractor for backache  or neck pain, and in the absence of these symptoms, it can be assumed the spine is doing okay.

In fact, the spine, and specifically the central nerve system within it, which controls every function of the body, is the last organ of the body for which such an assumption  can safely be made.  There are no sensory nerve endings in the central nerve system, which runs virtually the entire length of the spine, and almost all damage to the CNS is permanent and irreversible.  This means that if there is irritation to the brain, spinal cord or branches of the cord that exit the spine, no distress signal will directly result, and no hope for repair would exist.

Are you willing to take the risk of assuming that your child is not experiencing spinal distortion and nerve disturbance?  Especially when this condition is easy, cost-effective and safe to both detect and correct?

When evaluating the spines of adult patients, chiropractors frequently encounter degenerative changes in discs and vertebral joint structures which have been ongoing for many years, without any evidence of symptoms.  In many cases, it is only when the spinal degeneration reaches an advanced stage that symptoms of pain and stiffness occur.  If the spinal problem causing this degeration could have been detected at an early age, and the problem corrected,  a lifetime of misery and poor body function could have been avoided.

Many of the worst spinal problems, which chiropractors detect on x-ray, show evidence of having been present for many years and can be identified, by the degree of degeneration, as having started during childhood.  For this reason, it is recommended that a child’s first spinal evaluation should be early in life when the spine is growing and developing at the fastest rate.

Orthopedists have identified that the time when the spine is most likely to develop problems, or for existing problems to worsen, is during the periods of rapid growth.  Examination of the growth patterns of a child’s spine shows that the time of fastest spinal growth is during the first years of life, when the average length of the spine grows from 24 to 36 cm.  This is a 50 percent increase in on year, a rate which is unmatched by any other phase of a child’s growth and development.  The next fastest growth rate occurs between the ages of one and five years when the spinal length increases from 36 to 51 cm, a 42 percent growth rate.

Now consider that the period of fastest growth, the first year of life, can also be a period of considerable
trauma, beginning with the birth process itself, which can be extremely traumatic, particularly if it occurs in a hospital setting and any complications arise.  Also in the first year of life, the child learns to sit up and walk.  This phase of a child’s development is also the period when the secondary spinal curves are forming in the child’s neck and low back.

Because the first year of life is such an important one for spinal development, and because the potential for trauma is so high, it is recommended that a child’s first chiropractic spinal evaluations be performed during this period.  Beyond the first year, of course, the child needs regular check-ups to ensure that the micro-and macrotrauma of the child’s daily living, such as roughhousing, falls from bicycles, as well as mental and emotional stresses, are not causing spinal problems.  These problems might otherwise go unnoticed, simply because the child does not complain of symptoms.

So far we have touched on the preventive component of a child’s chiropractic experience.  However, it is also true that kids who are under regular, consistent chiropractic care from an  early age are more likely to express their potential in many areas, including academic, athletic, psychological and emotional.  Many parents describe their kids as expressing a greater capacity for kindness and compassion, as well as longer attention spans and healthier immune systems.  This is because spinal problems which disrupt the nerve system disrupt the normal functioning of the entire body.  As these problems are corrected, the body returns to a more normal, optimal state of health and vitality.

Keeping a little sapling growing straight and tall is easy if you start right from the beginning with consistent, gentle care through its periods of growth.  An unattended tree, grown bent and twisted and 40 feet high, may be nearly impossible to straighten.  Don’t let your child’s spine develop like a neglected tree.  If you wouldn’t let your child wait until they have a toothache before taking them to the dentist, don’t let them wait until they have a backache before having their spine checked.


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