Condition of the Week: Herniated Discs

The disc in between each vertebra in the spine, technically called intervertebral discs, acts as a shock absorber for the everyday rigors that the spine endures. Think of the discs as a jelly doughnut. The outer layer is made of cartilage and fibrous tissue. It's like a nice mixture of glue and play-doh...sticky, but moveable...it is called the annulus fibrosis and it's comparable to the doughy portion of the doughnut. The inner part of the disc is a jelly-like substance called the nucleus pulposis.

Discs work together with the natural curves in our spines to keep the body limber, lubricated, and moving well. The spine has two natural curves. The cervical spine (or neck) and the lumbar spine (or low back) feature matching curves called a "lordotic curve" or a "lordosis." Lordosis just means an inward curve (one that curves toward the front of your body). Meanwhile, the thoracic spine (or mid-to-upper back) features a "kyphotic curve" or a "kyphosis." Kyphosis comes from the Greek word "Kyphos," meaning "hump." This is an outward curve (one that curves toward the back of your body). These are not to be confused with the sideways curves that develop and are termed "scoliosis." These natural curves also act as a shock absorber. So, between the discs and the curves, we naturally have a nice cushion...

The term "herniated disc" or "disc herniation" simply means that the outer, doughy part of the disc tears, allowing the inner, jelly part of the disc to leak out. This is the term that is used to describe a "blown disc." It should not be confused with a disc "protrusion," which simply means that the inner, jelly portion has shifted and concentrates in a particular area rather than being evenly distributed.

Whether we are walking, sleeping, sitting, lifting, squatting, or whatever other position you can put your body in, the spine is affected. So, the discs are constantly under some sort of pressure. Certain positions place more pressure on the discs than others. If you take a wine bottle or a 2-liter bottle of soda, you'll notice that when you move it around or place it in different positions, the liquid inside shifts. If the bottle is upright, then the pressure is evenly distributed. If you tilt the bottle slightly, then the pressure builds and concentrates in a particular area. The same thing happens with the discs. The head is meant to sit level on the top bone in the spine, but when that top bone misaligns it takes the head with it. Through a series of compensations, the head rights itself to a level position, but in doing so abandons its natural curves. All that compensation causes the pressure in the discs to concentrate in particular areas instead of being evenly distributed...the fluid portion of the disc "protrudes" to one particular area.

So, let's say that you take a two-liter bottle of soda and start shaking it up. The bottle is meant to hold the liquid in a pressurized area, but when shaking up the bottle, you push the limit to the amount of pressure that the bottle can safely withstand. After shaking up the bottle, you drop it from a good six feet off the ground. Boom! The cap comes flying off the bottle and the liquid comes blasting out of there like a volcanic eruption. Much like a volcano, the bottle has a certain pressure limit, so all it takes is an event to push it over the edge and make it erupt. Yet, it isn't the event that caused the eruption. It took you shaking up the bottle and building up the pressure to its limits, so that when the event occurred, the bottle could no longer maintain its integrity.

So, let's say that the top bone in your spine slides out of position and causes a series of "shake ups" in the body. The inner parts of the discs hold their fluid in a pressurized area, but when things get shaken up, you push the limit to the amount of pressure that the discs can safely withstand. After shaking up the discs, an event such as twisting or turning while lifting something heavy or bending down too quickly or a whole host of other potential traumas occurs. Boom! The outer part of the disc tears and the fluid part of the disc comes blasting out of there like a volcanic eruption. Much like a volcano, the disc has a certain pressure limit, so all it takes is an event to push it over the edge and make it erupt. Yet, isn't the event that caused the eruption. It took the discs getting shaken up and building up the pressure to its limits, so that when the event occurred, the disc could no longer maintain its integrity.

The lesson to be learned is that when the top bone slides out of position and takes the head with it, the rest of the body compensates and causes the pressure in the discs to build up. Over time, that pressure builds and builds until it reaches its limit of integrity. Then, it just takes an event to push that pressure past its limit of integrity to "blow it out." Eliminating that misalignment at the area where the head and the neck causes the compensations to go away, relieving the build-up in pressure formed in the discs, and nipping the problem at its true source.

As I've said before...it's so simple, it's hard to get...

Thinking good things for you as always...