DISC BULGE / HERNIATION
The 24 bones (vertebrae) of your spine are separated from one another by pads of cartilage called intervertebral discs or just discs for short. These discs are composed of two portions. The central portion is a pulpy, gel-like material called the nucleus pulposus. Forming a flexible, closed container around the nucleus is the annulus fibrosis, which consists of layers of cartilage rings that adhere strongly to each spinal bone.
When these cartilage rings become damaged, the soft inner material can push out through a tear or weakening, the disc is said to be herniated. Herniated discs are also called protruding, bulging, ruptured or degenerated discs. There are fine distinctions between these terms, but all really refer to a disc that is damaged to some extent. The commonly used term "slipped disc" is incorrect as it suggests that the discs can physically move, which they cannot. Herniated discs cause pain by impinging on and irritating and/or pinching and even injuring nerves in the spinal column.
Although the discs start to degenerate after about 25 years of age, everyone should be able to complete their entire lifespan without discomfort from this ageing process. In your mid 20's the discs begin to lose their high water content and their ability to dissipate force as efficiently. By the age of 35, approximately 30% of people will show evidence of disc degeneration at one or more levels. By the age of 60, greater than 90% of people will show evidence of disc degeneration. However it is when the degenerative process speeds beyond normal that you are likely to have problems.
What causes the speed-up of degeneration?
The process is frequently initiated by damage to the disc and/or surrounding spinal joints by acute injuries like bad falls or accidents or by chronic insult like poor posture, weak supporting muscles and/or incorrect body movements. The discs have very poor blood supply and depend on constant body movement to bring nutrients and expel waste products. Body movements that move the spine acts like pumping actions which helps to pump fluid in and out of the discs and surrounding joints. Every cell of the body must be "fed" correctly and regularly in order to maintain its
proper function, and the disc is no exception. The disc must not only absorb its nutrition from the fluids which surrounds it, but additionally any waste products will need to be removed.
Any damage or injury to muscles, joints or discs that interferes with normal movement will impair this pumping action and the health of the disc will deteriorate quite rapidly. If this process is allowed to go on without any intervention, the movement becomes progressively more abnormal and the degenerative process starts to extend to surrounding discs and joints.
Most disc herniations happen in the low back (lumbar spine), with the second most common site being the neck (cervical spine). A herniated lumbar disc may send pain shooting down through your buttock and thigh into the back of your leg. Cervical disc herniation may cause pain in the shoulder, arm and hand. Herniated discs can also cause muscle weakness, make it hard to get up when you have been sitting or lying down, cause pain when you strain or do something, even when you cough or sneeze. In some patients, this disc degeneration can be asymptomatic: in others it can lead to intractable back pain. The amount of disc degeneration frequently has no relationship to pain.
Disc degeneration cannot be reversed, but it can be effectively slowed down and treated with chiropractic adjustments, exercise and nutritional support.
Herniated discs are probably one of the most common diagnosis for back pain. Unfortunately this diagnosis is often used when an explanation for a person’s pain cannot be found, similar to using arthritis to explain various aches and pains. The problem is that many people diagnosed with a disc bulge / "slipped disc", do not have pain because of it. Research has shown that many of us live with herniated discs yet never have any back pain or other symptoms. An accurate diagnosis can make all the difference when dealing with back pain.
Dr Karen Williams
B.Sc. M. Chiropractic
For Additional Information please call Three Lamps Chiropractic 09 378 0069