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For more information about chiropractic treatment, contact:

John Ballam, DC

201 Davis Grove Circle, #106
Cary, NC 27519
Telephone: (919) 363-2277

Treating the “Family Spine”

“Our genetic makeup influences an array of human features such as our height and hair color, but today new research indicates that our genes may also play a role in inheriting spinal disc disease,” notes Dr. John Ballam, of Legacy Chiropractic in Cary. “However, a gene test isn’t necessary to pick up on genetic influences,” he says. “The new research simply confirms the genetic influences we see regularly in practice.

Dr. Ballam: “This image shows before and after results for a patient with scoliosis. While there is still some curvature after treatment, the spine
and the center of the head are much closer in line and stable.”

“When I see multiple family members, generational patterns are revealed—a unique feature of one of the shapes of the bones, such as the sacrum, for example, or the way the pelvis is positioned.

“The greatest benefit of looking at family history is that in some ways, families provide us with a ‘science experiment.’ Parents and grandparents offer clues of what to look for in future generations. If your mom or dad is struggling with lower-back pain, that’s a warning not to wait until you’re in your sixties to start looking for a cause of your own back pain.

“In fact, don’t wait until you have pain! Knowing there’s a family tendency is empowering informa-tion, because there are things you can do to keep from following in their footsteps.”

When there is such a family history, Dr. Ballam advises starting with having a chiropractor examine your spine when in your twenties or even younger to check for any predisposing traits that may cause extra stress on the spine that could later lead to problems.”

Health&Healing: What structural problems are you looking for?

DR. BALLAM: We should all have 24 bones in our spine, as well as a sacrum, coccyx, and pelvis bone; and there should also be certain defined curves. From a side view, for example, we should see a certain degree of curve in the neck and lower back. When you look at someone’s spine from behind, it should be straight. We don’t want to see it leaning or zig-zagging.

Warning Signs

Parents should be alert to signs of spinal issues in their growing child, says Dr. Ballam, “because if problems are caught early we can do so much to prevent serious problems and limitations.” Some warning signs that deserve attention:

  • Does their back always feel achy?
  • Are they as mobile as they should be?
  • Can they turn as far one way as another?
  • Are their shoulders level, or is one significantly higher?
  • When the child touches their toes, the top of the back should be level; if not, that should be checked out.

“If you notice any of these signs,” advises Dr. Ballam, “bring your child in for chiropractic evaluation. If we suspect anything, we’ll take an X-ray to confirm what’s going on.”

But some people have deviating structural features. Perhaps the shape of a particular vertebra may not be block-shaped but instead may be more trapezoidal. As a result of that misshapen bone, your biomechanics change and a vulnerable area is created that may need a bit more preventive management to help extend the mileage of the spine. Sometimes I’ll see a similar pattern in mom and child. Just as you may have your mom’s hair color, you may also have her vertebra. For example, if scoliosis—which is a sideways curvature of the spine—is caused by a genetic component, it usually runs on mom’s side and is more common in the first-born female. If mom is my patient and then her daughter comes in, it’s on my radar to be looking for curvature in her too.

H&H: What makes the spine curve that way?

DR. BALLAM: It comes back to the shape of the bones. Every vertebra is block-shaped. So, imagine that you are going to stack Legos on top of each other, but instead of a Lego being block shaped, it’s trapezoidal. That stack will now have some curvature. That trapezoidal-shaped, asymmetric bone is one of the main causes of scoliosis—an anomaly.

I can’t physically change the shape of the bone, but I can help that person’s body adapt to what’s going on so they can function in a much better way. A good example is a tree that’s had another tree fall on it, thus bending it. Remarkably, as it grows, it seems to curve and right itself back up. That’s what happens with that spine. It’s sustained something that changed its structure down below. But up above, it’s doing a remarkable job of curving to bring itself back up on point. The muscles have aligned themselves along that curvature, and some are going to be longer, some shorter. I want to make sure that the muscles are not too tight or too loose to help assist with the alignment of the spine.

H&H: How do you treat scoliosis?

DR. BALLAM: A normal spine should be a straight line. Think of scoliosis as essentially a spine that is shaped like the letter S—zig-zagging, almost like a snake. Some people have such severe scoliosis that it requires orthopedic surgery. But a lot of people don’t need that severe, intense protocol and can do very well with conservative management. That’s where chiropractic is a great fit for those patients, because there’s a lot we can do for them that doesn’t fit into the medical model.

Someone has to manage those cases that aren’t sufficiently severe to warrant surgical intervention. People sometimes get aches and pains and discomfort in their back and they don’t want those curves to get worse. That’s where I look at their spine using an X-ray and then use a systematic approach to work on it.

And not all people who have curves experience discomfort. Actually, I’ve found that often the problem isn’t so much the curves, but it’s more about the foundational rule of balance. Is the spine balanced so that the zigs and zags cancel each other out to a point where the head is till centered over the pelvis? That’s the balance we’re looking for.

I explain to my scoliosis patients that my goal isn’t to straighten their spine, but to bring balance to it. I address vulnerable areas of the spine so that even though there’s zig-zagging, we can get the head balanced over the pelvis, providing equal weight distribution on both legs. If we can accomplish that, they can function normally even with their scoliosis. In fact, there are people who power lift with spines that look like that. (see photos)

H&H: How long would someone need to be treated?

DR. BALLAM: First of all, I want to be proactive. So the person we want to watch the most is the adolescent with scoliosis who’s going through their growth years. We want to make sure that as that teen grows to their mature skeletal height, everything’s growing in the best way that it can, so treatment may take longer.

Free Posture Assessment

“A posture assessment,” says Dr. Ballam, “is an invaluable tool in chiropractic care. It provides a baseline against which to evaluate future problems. That is why,” he says, “we offer a free digital pos-ture assessment and free consulta-tion to assess imbalances and risks.”

To schedule a free initial consultation and posture assessment, call:
(919) 363-2277.

As for adults who’ve reached their full growth, we want to watch, monitor, and provide treatments as necessary. Many patients come in just once a month. As long as we can keep things balanced, that person, with some conservative care, can function very well.

We also have patients who’ve come in with pretty severe scolio-sis—who have had Harrington rod surgery, which literally anchors a rod to their spine and straightens it out as much as possible, reducing scoliosis curvature. I can’t treat the areas that have hardware, because that hardware limits their mobility. When that person ties their shoes, they’re looking over their shoulder, and that puts a lot more mechanical stress on those joints that are still free. As their chiropractor, my job is to ensure that the rest of their spine that isn’t fused with hardware is being taken care of.