While the inter-vertebral disc is a common culprit in spine related health problems, its function is widely misunderstood. Discs can bulge, herniate, or rupture, resulting in other problems.
The disc is a small cartilage pad that is situated between your spinal bones. When healthy, the discs give you mobility and allow for normal turning and bending. They act as shock absorbers when the spine undergoes a sudden movement, unusual pressure or forceful jarring. The soft, jelly-like centre is contained by layers of fibrous tissues. It is when there is a weakening or rupture in this protective layer that the disc is said to 'bulge' or 'slip'. It is a bit like a weak wall on an automobile tyre, but in this case it may gradually protrude into the spinal canal to press against nerves and cause pain.
Each disc serves as a connector, spacer, and shock absorber for the spine. The discs also give us more than a foot of our height. When we grow older, thinning discs make us appear to shrink.
Although the discs start to calcify after about 25 years of age, we should all be able to complete our life span with no discomfort from this aging process. It is when the degeneration speeds up beyond normal that we are likely to have trouble.
WHAT CAUSES THE SPEED-UP OF DEGENERATION?
Even young persons may suffer from disc degeneration due to poor nutrition. This is not malnutrition in the sense of what we eat. It has to do with starved disc tissue. Every cell of the body must be fed correctly in order to maintain its proper function...and the disc is no exception. Our body relies on our blood and cardiovascular system to transport nutrients and eliminate toxins from all parts.
Spinal discs however, have a very poor blood supply, they depend on the circulation of joint fluids that surround them to bring in nutrients and expel waste. The circulation of fluids is almost completely dependant on joint motion. If a spinal joint loses its normal motion and this pumping action is impaired, the health of the disc deteriorates. Like a wet sponge, a healthy disc is flexible. A dry sponge is hard, stiff and can crack easily. Some of the factors affecting disc nutrition are in-activity, poor posture, stress, weak muscles, injuries, muscle spasms, and fixation (two adjoining vertebrae moving as one).
Disc degeneration is a slow, insidious process. The first symptom is rarely pain. Signs of disc degeneration are usually present for some time, even years before there is any pain. Most commonly it may only manifest as a feeling of slowly progressing stiffness and reduced mobility. Once the process starts it is progressive unless something is done to halt it or slow it down.
Any of the spinal discs can be injured or undergo degeneration. However, the discs in the lower part of your spine are subjected to the greatest stress are most commonly injured. Persons who do a lot of lifting are likely candidates for disc trouble because of the day-today stress on the low back. However, inactive or sedentary individuals are just likely to have this type of problem. Office workers, commuters, sales reps and chronic TV watchers are often affected since prolonged sitting is a primary cause of disc trouble. Regardless of occupation, anyone may have weak, degenerated discs.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Fortunately, 95% of all disc cases can be managed through modern chiropractic methods. Years of research and experience in disc cases qualifies chiropractic practitioners as the treatment of choice in acute and chronic disc problems.
Specialised chiropractic techniques in disc care include:
1). A thorough chiropractic examination to determine the extent of damage, the cause, aggravating and relieving factors etc.
2). Based on the examination a treatment schedule is designed including:
- Realignment of the spinal column
- Balancing the spine and pelvis to allow for movement to normalise and to eliminate pressure on the disc.
- Traction to minimise disc pressure
- Elimination of joint fixations and muscle spasm
- Mobilisation to stimulate disc nutrition
- Stimulate normal joint motion by revitalising ligaments and muscles
- If necessary treatment may include complimentary therapies such as acupuncture to relieve muscle spasm, reduce inflammation and pain.
Chiropractic techniques have successfully been used for a long time in the management and prevention of disc problems. Any person suffering from stiff, achy, acute or chronic back pain should see a chiropractor to have a thorough evaluation done. If everyone looked after their back the way they look after their teeth many of the problems that i see on a daily basis could be completely avoided. A very important part of proper treatment is prevention of any additional future damage.
The traditional approach to discs problems often ignores spinal function. Conservative chiropractic care is safer and often more effective than back surgery.
The chiropractic approach to discs problems is to help restore better motion and position to the spinal joint. Besides reducing disc bulging, better spinal function helps reduce inflammation and begins the slow process of healing the surrounding soft tissue. While results cannot be guaranteed in all cases, numerous patients have avoided needless surgery or a dependency on pain pills by choosing conservative chiropractic care.
B.Sc. M.Chiropractic MNZCA
For additional information please call Three Lamps Chiropractic 09 378 0069.
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