Spinal Discs: What They Are, Types of Injuries and How to Recover

As we go about our day, we may not realize the important role our spine plays in allowing us to perform normal functions. When we walk, bend over and even sit on the couch to watch a show – our spine is working. It gives us structure, supports our body, enables us to be flexible and protects our spinal cord. This powerful part of our bone structure includes 23 spinal discs located between the vertebrae, which play a key role in our spine’s overall health.

These unique structures act as cushions and are made up of a tough outer layer (the annulus fibrosus) and a soft inner core (the nucleus pulposus). The main functions of our spinal discs include:

  • Absorbing shock
  • Allowing the spine to move freely
  • Protecting the spinal cord and nerve roots
  • Providing nutrients to the spine

Most of us probably don’t give our spinal discs much thought. That is, until we experience pain or injury to these important cushions. And as we get older, the likelihood of injury or problems increases.

Types of Injuries to Your Spinal Discs

Disc Bulge: A bulged disc is when the outer layer of the disc (annulus fibrosus) bulges outward but does not break. This type of injury often occurs over time and usually within the lower back.

spinal discs and injury

Herniated Disc: Also referred to as a slipped or ruptured disc, a herniated disc is when the outer layer of the disc (annulus fibrosus) tears, allowing the soft inner core (nucleus pulposus) to leak out. This type of injury can occur anywhere in the spine and are often a result of age-related wear and tear. This leads us to the third type of disc issue, degeneration.

Disc Degeneration: Degeneration is when the disc naturally breaks down with age, making it less effective at absorbing shock and protecting the spine. As the cushions wear away, the bones can start to rub together.

The following table shows the detailed reference limits and tensile strength of spinal discs at different levels of degeneration (definition of MPa measurement unit is a megapascal, measurement of pressure):

Spinal Disc FunctionDetailed Reference LimitsTensile Strength
Normal100-120%1000-1200 MPa
Degenerative80-100%800-1000 MPa
Herniated<80%<800 MPa

The Cause of Spinal Disc Issues

As we age, our spinal discs can become stiffer and lose water. Because of this, our discs do not adjust to compression as easily and are more susceptible to injury. There are also several other factors that can increase the risk of injury, including:

  • Being sedentary for long periods of time
  • Genetics
  • Excess body weight, which stresses the discs
  • Smoking because it lessens the oxygen supply to the discs
  • Poor posture
  • Repetitive motions related to an occupation
  • Improper lifting techniques
  • Contact sports
  • Traumatic injury

Treating Injuries to Your Spinal Discs with Chiropractic Care

While there are several options to help with disc issues, chiropractic care can be a safe, non-surgical option. Gonstead chiropractic treatment can be helpful for treating a variety of spinal conditions, including disc injuries. Gonstead chiropractors can help to reduce pain and inflammation, improve range of motion, and promote healing.

These techniques are an effective way to manage the pain and symptoms associated with spinal disc injuries. It is also important to note that there are limits and your chiropractic must use all current diagnostic tools to aid them. In the initial treatment there may be some symptoms experienced i.e.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Aggravation of existing symptoms

These symptoms should be short lived but monitored by your chiropractor. It also should be noted that in the initial 30 to 90 days of treatment that the patient is highly vulnerable to injury and increase in symptoms. At this time, proper ergonomics and rehabilitation is highly recommended.

Finally, the time frame of an injured disc can take time. The initial healing phase is 30 to 90 days. Other reconstructive phases can take a year for all of the scar tissue to model itself after the underlying tissue.

Feel free to contact my office for any further questions or schedule a consultation.

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