Why don’t skeletons fight each other?
… They don’t have the guts.
Happy Halloween! In the spirit of the holiday I thought we would learn some random skeleton facts. The adult skeletal system is made up of 206 bones. What’s even more interesting is that when we’re born we actually have 300 bones. It’s not a magic trick where the extra bones just disappear--- some of them actually fuse together as babies grow. These growth plates usually close between 13 and 18 years old and our bones completely ossify or harden by age 25. From there we want to focus on keeping our bones strong. Vegetables, high calcium foods, and light strength training/ exercise are the best ways to keep our bones healthy as we age. Of our 206 adult bones, more than half of them, 106 of them to be exact, are found in our hands and feet. Speaking of numbers of bones-- it is possible to have some extra ones in different parts of the body. About 1% of people have an extra rib-- so 13 instead of 12. It’s usually a cervical rib which can cause neck pain to the point that some people actually have the extra rib removed. More commonly, about 10% of people have an extra lumbar vertebrae (low back vertebrae). This extra bone usually doesn’t cause any discomfort or issues-- many people find out about the extra vertebrae from a lumbar x-ray.
When we’re fully developed adults, the smallest bone in our body is found in our inner ear. It’s called the stapes, sometimes called the stirrup since it’s shaped like a Y. This bone plays an essential role in our ability to hear. On the other hand, our largest bone in the body is the femur. The femur connects our hip to our knee and is the strongest bone in our body- it has to be, to carry us around all day. We have many different types of joints in the body which allow us to bend, move, and function in daily life. Joints are found in our fingers, toes, elbows, knees, hips, and even our back. The biggest of these joints is found in our knees. This joint connects our femur (largest bone in our body) to the tibia and patella. Ironically this is one of the more common joints to cause discomfort and pain as we age.
Every system in our body has certain functions. The skeletal system (bones) have five main functions: support, movement, protection, blood cell generation, and storage. Our skeletal system gives our whole body support. Without our bones we’d be a big gooey blob. Only 5% of animal species are vertebrates (meaning we have a bony skeleton to hold us up). The other 95% are invertebrates like jellyfish and worms. Our bones also help us move. All of our muscles attach to our bones by tendons and ligaments. When the muscles contract, our bones act as a lever to pivot. This helps us walk, run, dance, talk, sing-- you name it. Our bones also protect us, especially our internal organs and our spinal cord and brain. Our skull completely encloses our brain-- which is the main controller of our entire body. Imagine if our brain was exposed on a daily basis, we’d be much more careful in our daily activities. Our ribcage is another big protector of our heart and lungs. Our bones also help make blood cells. This is called hematopoiesis and this process is completed in the bone marrow. Bones also help store vital minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. When our body needs these things, our bones release them back into the bloodstream. The skeletal system can support you for a lifetime of movement. Taking proper care of it ensures you can move longer, experience more, and have greater health.
How many of us know someone who has or is currently suffering from sciatica? Sciatica can range from being very mild to almost debilitating pain lasting anywhere from a few days to months or even years. People recognize sciatic pain as pain typically starting in the low back and traveling down the buttocks and into the back of the leg. This pain can sometimes be described as numbness, tingling, burning, shooting, or can even contribute to weakness in the muscles of the leg. Typically sciatica is experienced on only one side at a time. Traditional management of sciatic pain often is over the counter medications (NSAIDS). If that doesn’t work, specialists look at treatments such as prescription painkillers, muscle relaxers, or even injections into the lumbar facet joints (joints between the vertebrae in the low back). These options can be good to manage the pain but they never seem to get to the root cause of the issue.
Conservative treatment options such as corrective chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, and physical therapy programs look for what is causing the symptoms and aims to correct that, not just manage the symptoms. Chiropractors specifically are trained to look at the bony structure of the low back and hips to see if they are biomechanically normal. All of the muscles and ligaments attach to the bony structure, so if the bones are out of place, this can cause the muscles to be tight and irritated as well. Think of this kind of like your car at home. If the wheels are not aligned then slowly the tires wear out, then the struts, the shocks, etc. When evaluating a patient with sciatica, we specifically are looking at the lumbar vertebrae (low back vertebrae), sacrum, and hips. Normal structure in these areas is as follows: nice and straight up and down from the front, but then from the side we need to have a nice C-shaped curve. We also evaluate to see if the hips are level and how the sacrum is positioned. People often ask… how do these structural shifts occur? Oftentimes, people deviate from normal structure with stress or trauma. People usually think of big traumas like car accidents, falling down the stairs, slipping on ice, or even sports injuries. Shifts in the low back and hips can also be a result of repetitive movement (or lack of movement) injuries. Repetitive lifting at work or even constant sitting can lead to a loss of curve in the low back. The L3, L4, and L5 nerves combine to form the sciatic nerve, so losing the normal curvature can lead to irritation of the sciatic nerve and as a result translate into traveling pain down the leg. Realigning and correcting the spinal structure in the low back while working with the muscles such as the piriformis muscle, psoas muscle, and even the hamstrings can lead to resolving the sciatic pain without the use of medications, injections, or surgery. Physical therapists and massage therapists can also work on this group of muscles. If someone you know is suffering from sciatica, share this information with them so they can consider conservative treatment options first.
Dr. Doug and Jeanette love teaching people about health and wellness. If we haven't covered a topic that you're interested in, feel free to leave a comment and we'd be happy to give you our thoughts!