Intervertebral discs are made of specialised cartilage tissue and are sandwiched in between 24 bones (vertebra) in your spine.
The disc has a thick outer layer (1) (annulus) that surrounds the soft gel-like center (2) (nucleus).
The discs allow slight movement of the vertebrae, giving you flexibility. They attach to both surfaces of the bone and act as a ligament to hold the vertebrae together. Their role as shock absorbers is crucial. The discs also permit proper spacing for the pairs of nerve root to exit from between each vertebra, into your organs and tissues.
Contrary to belief, discs don’t actually ‘slip’, but they can wear thin, bulge, protrude, tear and herniate. Disc injury most commonly occurs after some sort of trauma. But poor posture and neglect contributes to the wear and tear of your spine.
The diagrams below show what happens at different stages of disc degeneration and how these changes to the discs can affect your health and wellbeing.
Text book normal
There are no visible signs of degeneration to the disc, the nerve roots have plenty of room to move. There will be no pain or symptoms in the body.
Spinal misalignments can cause the disc to adapt into a wedge-like shape, this is the earliest stage of disc damage. This damage can cause soft tissue damage, nerve irritation and pain.
Phase 2 shows narrowing and a bulge of the disc can be seen, this is where the soft nucleus is forced outward where the disc wall is weakest. Calcium deposits build up and form bone spurs (extra bone growth/osteoarthritis) around the vertebra. Nerve irritation and pain are inevitable and may be accompanied by some joint immobilisation.
Degeneration at this stage causes joint immobilization as the bones fuse together, resulting in nerve atrophy (wastage) and scar tissue. In the most extreme cases the disc ruptures, leaking its contents into surrounding tissues. The disc has no cushioning function to the spine and movement causes lots of pain. Surgical intervention is often involved at this stage.
Disc problems are not simply part of the ‘normal’ aging process. There are young people who suffer spinal disc degeneration early in life through neglect and, on the other end of the scale, there are elderly people who have maintained their spines throughout their lives who enjoy excellent spinal health and function. It’s a bit like looking after your teeth, if you neglect your teeth, even at a very early age, they decay, and the same can happen with your spine without proper care and maintenance.
Remember……the purpose of chiropractic is to locate and correct areas of the spine that interfere with the normal nervous system control of your body. Because the intervertebral discs are so close to the spinal cord and nerve roots, disc involvement is common in chiropractic cases. Spinal adjustments help to restore correct motion and position of the misaligned spinal bones and if caught before permanent damage occurs, disc tissue often returns to a more normal size and shape.
Chiropractic first. Risky drugs second. Surgery last.