Vertebral Disc Anatomy
In between the bones in your spine are Vertebral Discs. The Vertebral Discs function as a shock absorber for your spine. Each disc in the spine is attached to the vertebra above it, therefore a disc cannot “slip” as commonly thought. There a space for the spinal cord to run inside the Vertebral Column and holes for the spinal nerves to come out.
The Vertebrae (spinal bones) and the discs provide a protective tunnel for your spinal cord and spinal nerves. There are several ways discs can be damaged, disc tear, bulging disc, herniated disc, prolapsed disc and desiccated disc.
Trauma or injury to the spine can cause discs to bulge, herniate, or rupture. This can be very painful, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots, often interfering with their function. The spinal discs depend on the circulation of joint fluids to bring in nutrients and expel waste. If a spinal joint loses its normal motion and the pumping action is impaired the disc deteriorates. Like a wet sponge, a healthy disc is flexible, but a dry sponge is hard and stiff and can crack easily. This is how many disc problems occur.
If there is injury to the spine many conditions can result.
Degenerative Disc Disease
This is a result of improper movement and/or wear and tear on the Vertebral Discs in your spine. Your Spinal Joints are covered by cartilage, which protect your spine from damage. When the bones are not moving correctly the joints wear out and bone begins to grow on the spine.
Disc Tear/Annular Tears
This is the most common injury, and may or may not cause pain. It can be a small crack or micro tear in the outer cartilage material of the disc. The fluid starts to leak out, the disc begins to wear thin, and the color of the disc changes.
The soft jelly-like material in the middle of the disc pushes to one side, forward or backward, and swelling occurs.
The best way to visualize a Herniated Disc is to think of it like a jelly doughnut. A Herniated Disc is where the outer dough tears and the jelly inside the doughnut leaks out. The outer section of the disc (Annulus Fibrosis) tears allowing the inner jelly like section (Nucleus Pulposis) to leak through the disc. The soft jelly-like material from the nucleus in the middle of the disc ruptures through the outer fibers and extends to the outer edge or beyond the normal limits of the disc. The pain/symptoms are believed to be from inflammation resulting from the disc leaking onto the spinal nerve.
A piece of disc material separates away and becomes a fragment or a free-floating piece.
The disc loses its fluid and degenerates to a rough, worn-down appearance. This occurs as the bones begin to fuse to each other.
How Chiropractic Helps
The chiropractic approach to disc problems is to help restore better motion and position to the spinal joints. Besides reducing disc bulging, better spinal function helps decrease inflammation and speed up the process of healing and pain relief.