You may often hear your chiropractor speak about spinal disc problems. To understand the nature of such disc problems it is necessary to understand the functions of the disc.
Inter-vertebral discs are structures located between the spinal bones (vertebrae). They act as shock absorbers for the spine, preventing contact between the vertebrae and providing adequate space for the spinal nerves to exit.
In scientific terms there is no such thing as a slipped disc. Discs are well secured to a cartilage pad and then attached to the vertebral bones above and below. A slipped disc is simply a popular term for either a protruding disc or bulging disc, or a ruptured (prolapsed) disc.
Disc problems can cause debilating pain but with some basic understanding of the causes of disc problems, a lot can be avoided.
Each disc is made up of two parts. An outer ring - the annulus fibrosis - a tough substance forming the outer two thirds of the disc and the nucleus pulposis - a jelly like centre.
The front wall of the annulus is much thicker than the back, thanks mainly to supporting ligaments, which act as a restraining force for the front portion of the disc. The central nucleus is pushed the opposite way to which the spine bends during movement, like the way a waterbed displaces to the other side when a person lies on it.
Discs make up approximately one quarter of the height of the spinal column. They are in their best condition at birth. Discs are slightly larger in the morning after sleeping because they have absorbed fluid whilst you have been lying down. As the day progresses gravity compresses the disc causing it to become slightly thinner. This is why you are taller in the morning!
Over the years everyday wear and tear causes degeneration, or narrowing, of the disc. This is further compounded with injury. The constant workload causes the disc to reduce in thickness. It is estimated that once you have reached sixty years of age you will be about three centimetres shorter than at your maximum height. Degeneration can have a major influence on the size of the opening between the vertebrae through which the spinal nerves pass.
Protruding disc or bulging disc
Everyday stresses, combined with injuries and poor spinal maintenance, can cause the outer annulus to weaken. The nucleus may then push on the outer ring, breaking some fibres, allowing the annulus to bulge out. A bulge can be large enough to compress and irritate the nerve root as it branches off the spinal cord. The resulting 'nerve root compression' can be painful, both at the site of the nerve compression and also in the area that the nerve supplies. The latter is known as 'referred' pain. However it is possible to have a disc bulge which does not produce any symptoms but is indicative of degenerative changes.
Prolapsed disc or ruptured disc
If damage to the annulus (the outer ring) is severe enough, the nucleus (jelly centre) can actually rupture through the annulus into the spinal canal, pressing on the spinal nerves or spinal cord. This may also cause nerve root compression.
Spinal nerves are extremely sensitive to pressure, which is why you need chiropractic care to maintain proper disc biomechanics. Disc problems can be further prevented by having strong abdominal muscles, utilising prop lifting techniques, and avoiding repetitive twisting motions.
Contact Centenary Chiropractic if you are experiencing any disc problems. Book Online or call us on: 07 3381 0440