What to Know About the Intervertebral Disc
Do I have a slipped disc?
The intervertebral disc is a special type of cartilage that connects and cushions the 24 bones of your spinal column. Each disc attaches to the vertebra above and below it. This provides the proper spacing for pairs of nerve roots to exit the spine from between each joint.
A disc can thin, wedge, bulge, protrude, tear or herniate, but it doesn’t slip! Safe and natural chiropractic care can help.
Each spinal disc has a jelly-like “ball bearing” core that is contained by bands of fibrous tissue. Healthy discs give you flexibility, allowing normal turning and bending. This movement produces a pumping action that supplies proper disc nutrition and waste removal.
Trauma produces the most common form of disc injury.
Spinal misalignments can cause disc tissue to adapt into a wedge-like shape. This is the earliest stage of disc damage. While this position can encroach upon adjacent nerve tissue, pain or other obvious symptoms may not be present. Even before symptoms appear, chiropractic care can be helpful.
Like a blister, disc tissue can bulge. As the soft nucleus of the disc is compressed, it pushes outward where the disc wall is weakest. This distortion can produce obvious symptoms (sciatica) as it affects nearby nerves. Muscles tighten to protect and splint the joint. Chiropractic care has been known to help.
The most extreme form of disc damage is when the disc ruptures, leaking its contents into surrounding tissues. With its cushioning and separating functions gone, the movement is painful and surgical intervention is often involved.
Uncorrected, long-standing vertebral subluxations can make discs susceptible to damage. “I didn’t do a thing” or “I just bent over to tie my shoes” are comments we often hear.
How does chiropractic care help disc problems?
The purpose of chiropractic care is to locate and correct areas of the spine that interfere with the proper nervous system control of your body. Because the intervertebral discs are so close to the spinal cord and nerve roots, disc involvement is quite common in chiropractic cases. Chiropractic adjustments help restore proper motion and position of malfunctioning spinal bones, reducing nervous system involvement. If caught before permanent damage occurs, disc tissue often returns to a more normal size and shape.
Aren’t disc problems simply part of the normal aging process?
No. However, many disc problems are the result of years of neglect. Many spinal problems are nonsymptomatic until the advanced stages of degeneration. Many elderly patients who have maintained their spines throughout their lives continue to enjoy excellent spinal health and function.
A Weak Link in Many Spines
The spinal discs are cartilage pads which sit between the vertebra and provide most of the flexibility to the spine. Without the discs, the spine would be a rigid column of bone not capable of bending. It is the combined flexibility of the 23 spinal discs that account for the total amount of movement in the spine.
The mobility that the spinal discs add to the spinal column is, however, not without some drawbacks. By being soft and therefore flexible, the spinal discs are prone to “wear” with time and aging. This “wearing” process usually begins in the third decade of life, and disc disorders causing back and leg pain are common in all adults over the age of 30 years. In a study of adults who did not have or had not had back pain, researchers from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at George Washington University found abnormal discs on CAT scans in 35% of all age groups. In those under 40 years of age, disc abnormalities were found in approximately 20%, and in those over 40 years, they were found in 50%!
As the discs wear with age, they become prone to bulging or “slipping” out of place causing back pain and often pain radiating down one or both legs. A slipped or herniated disc is perhaps the most common reason for which people have back surgery. Fortunately, other treatment alternatives such as chiropractic manipulation are available for the treatment of disc disorders. Two recent studies comparing manipulation to other nonsurgical treatments such as physical therapy found manipulation to be superior in treating back pain related to the disc. Many patients receiving this type of treatment will be able to avoid difficult back surgery.
Anyone with back or leg pain should have a chiropractic evaluation for a disc disorder. Many will find that chiropractic treatment will be the answer to this difficult and common problem.
Common Cause of Low Back Pain
Almost all adults over the age of forty years will show some evidence of disc degeneration on x-rays. However, the great majority will not have back pain or, if they do, it will come and go. This should suggest that, although the degenerated disc may be a contributing factor in their pain, it is not the entire problem. Many persons who have been told from spinal x-rays that they have degenerated discs in their backs may have needlessly accepted the suffering without exploring all treatment avenues which might possibly help.
With age, almost all discs will degenerate. However, from a variety of factors such as previous injury, genetics, and other as yet unknown factors, some discs begin to degenerate at an early age. Many adults will have a single disc in their lower back begin to “thin” by age 35 to 40 years.
The spinal discs are the soft cartilage pads that occupy the space between the vertebra or spinal bones. It is the disc that is capable of compressing and bending allowing the joints of the spine to move. Without discs, the spine would be a rigid column of bone unable to bend. When a disc begins to degenerate, it allows the joint to move improperly causing pinching of one part of the joint. The term used for this painful joint pinching is “impingement”. As impingement is the source of the pain, not the disc degeneration itself, a treatment which corrects impingement will often totally relieve the pain associated with disc degeneration.
Chiropractic manipulation has proven to be a good method of correction of the impingement associated with disc degeneration. In a large study of chronic back pain patients at the Department of Orthopedics at University Hospital, Saskatchewan, Canada, researchers found that chiropractic manipulation was effective in relieving back pain in over 80%. Many patients had disc degeneration causing joint impingement and yet still had good results with chiropractic manipulation.
Anyone who has been condemned to a life of back pain because of disc degeneration should consider chiropractic treatment. It will offer relief to many sufferers.