Everyone knows someone that has a disc problem. At parties people often come up to me with questions about this topic. I usually turn it around and ask them a couple of questions to find out how much knowledge they have on the topic. Usually, their knowledge is very limited.
Below are some of the characteristics or facts about our discs.
• If it weren’t for our discs, we would all be roughly four inches shorter. Have you noticed your parents or grandparents getting shorter? This is why that happens they are simply losing disc height. By the way, Chiropractic care can help prevent disc height loss.
• Our discs act as shock absorbers, keeping the vertebra separated and also allowing our spine a wide range of movements. When we are young are discs are very resilient. As we age, they lose much of that resiliency which predisposes us to having disc problems.
What are the primary causes of disc problems?
From the time we are born, up to our later teens, each of our discs has an excellent blood supply. Like the rest of our body, there are arteries that take oxygenated nutrient rich blood to the disc and there are veins that take deoxygenated blood and waste away from the disc. For some “unknown” reason, the arteries and veins disappear (they become atretic) causing the disc to become avascular by our late teens. As you can imagine, this is not a happy time for the disc. A good analogy would be… The groceries stop being delivered and the sewer backs up.
Because of this, the disc is left with tunnels (where the vein and artery once resided) in the ligamentous outer rings of the disc called the annulus. These tunnels act as conduits for the “putty-like” center of the disc called the nucleus pulposus. This putty-like substance finds these conduits and can actually ooze through them during periods of high stress (lifting improperly, auto accidents, sports injuries, sneezing and coughing) which can lead to bulges, herniations and sequestered discs.
Because the direct blood supply in no longer available, the disc now relies on segmental motion to pump nutrients in and waste products out. To do this, the disc employs a process called imbibition. Imbibition can be explained by watching someone play an accordion. When an accordion is pulled apart, air rapidly is pulled into the bellows of the accordion. As the accordion is squeezed, air is forced through and out of the instrument to make the sound. That same motion occurs in a disc. When we bend backward the disc is elongated causing nutrient rich fluid to be pulled into the disc from the top and bottom of the vertebra that it is attached to. Conversely, when we bend forward the disc is compressed causing waste products to be forced out of the disc into the ends of the vertebra. This process happens hundreds of times each day. As long as there is normal motion at each disc level this pumping action is adequate to keep the disc healthy.
Misalignments or subluxations are the true enemy of the disc. When your spine becomes subluxated the disc’s normal pumping motion is reduced or in severe cases, completely eliminated due to loss of motion. If the subluxation is not corrected, degenerative processes begin leading to osteoarthritis. Once this happens, the areas above and below the affected area have to compensate for the osteoarthritic area. Over time these areas will begin to become problematic also.
I have successfully treated many individuals in the Greater Cincinnati area that had disc problems. Like most neuromuscular problems, it is best to seek out treatment early. The longer you wait the more difficult your case becomes.