When people think of chiropractors, they think of the spine – this makes sense, after all, that’s what we do! When we think of the spine, however, most people bring to mind the vertebra themselves. Of course, vertebra are critical to care for, but equally as important but less discussed are the spinal discs. This week, let’s look at how we can keep them healthy!
What are spinal discs anyway?
Spinal discs are like shock absorbers and sit between each of the bones, or vertebrae, of your spine. The discs have a tough outer ring and a jelly-like center. Their job is to help us move, bend, and twist while absorbing the weight of gravity – without the discs, it would be near impossible for the spine to provide the range of movement we ask of it each and every day.
Disc injuries and issues
Disc issues are common, and something that most of us will experience in some way, shape or form. The most common problem with discs by far is simply an increase in stiffness. Discs, like the rest of the body, suffer from wear and tear as you get older. Over time, your discs tend to lose their high water content, which can lead to degeneration, and as you might imagine, degenerative discs don’t move as well, are more prone to cause pain, and even contribute to the compression of your spinal nerves.
A more serious, and still fairly common problem is called a bulge or herniation – it’s an injury which most commonly occurs between 45-65 years of age when discs are naturally more dehydrated and stiffer.
In short, a disc bulge or herniation occurs when a disc’s inner portion is trying to (or has) pushed through its tough outer layer.
When this happens, it can cause pain in two different ways.
- If the disc bulges far enough to press on a spinal nerve, you may notice pain that travels down your arms or legs.
- If the inside of your disc pushes through the outer layer, it could also cause severe inflammation resulting in pain.
Even if you’re lucky enough to have especially resilient discs, Injuries and even the effects of gravity over time can all contribute to disc degeneration, meaning that it’s tough to avoid it completely. The good news is that degenerative discs rarely cause pain unless they budge or herniate, placing pressure on the spinal nerves. All is not lost, however – even though we can’t stop this process totally, you can slow down the degenerative process and keep your discs healthy for longer!
Simple steps for healthier discs
When it comes to disc health the steps for keeping them in good condition are surprisingly simple – top research journals have confirmed on numerous occasions that movement and hydration are two important factors to keep your discs healthy. The reasons make good sense – a well-hydrated disc can more easily adapt to movement and is less prone to injury and movement helps to bring nutrients and hydration to the disc itself. Many chiropractic techniques work in a similar way – some adjustments are not designed to make the spine “click” (as much as most people do love this sensation) – rather they are aimed to “pump” your spinal discs. This motion helps bring nutrients into the disc and pushes out inflammation and waste.
While chiropractic is a great way to support disc health, we can all take positive steps by ensuring we’re getting at least two litres of water per day and by introducing some daily exercise. Exercises which increase flexibility such as Pilates or yoga can be fantastic for maintaining disc health and even just a short daily run can make a real difference – best of all, both can be made part of your daily routine free of charge!
If you’re suffering from stiffness in the Discs, introducing something like Yoga might be a great step – and be sure to check your water intake! For those who are suffering from pain, or want to work on improving disc health more directly, a combination of chiropractic care and staying well-hydrated may be enough to make a real difference for many people.
 The Effect of Sustained Compression on Oxygen Metabolic Transport in the Intervertebral Disc Decreases with Degenerative Changes. Computational Biology 2011
 Running exercise strengthens the intervertebral disc. Scientific Reports 2017