Hello, everyone! This is Dr. Bob Salamon with Lowcountry Chiropractic. As always, I hope you’re doing well and staying healthy! Welcome back to my blog, where I discuss anything and everything related to chiropractic care and healthy living! I aim to provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions about your health. In my last post, we discussed the importance of staying active, as well as some workout tips. Today, we’ll be talking about intervertebral discs: What they are, how they work, and how you can keep them in the best possible condition. Intervertebral discs are located in the spine, which is the body’s central support system. It is important to understand their function so that you can care for them as well as understand the source of your pain if you are having disc problems. If you are interested in learning more about intervertebral discs, I encourage you to stick around and keep reading! Let’s get started.
In a previous blog, we took a closer look at the spine and the parts that make up the spine. For a brief recap, the spine consists of vertebrae, facet joints, intervertebral discs, the spinal cord and nerves, and soft tissues. Intervertebral discs are flat and round cushion-like structures that sit between the vertebrae and act as shock absorbers for the spine. They are about an inch in diameter and one-quarter inch thick, and are held in place by ligaments connecting the spinal bones. There are 26 bones that make up the vertebral column, and these discs sit in between each one. Their cushion-like function is due to the discs being filled with a gelatinous substance known as nucleus pulposus. Nucleus pulposus consists of mostly water, as well as collagen fibers. Surrounding this gel-like substance is the annulus fibrosus, a tough exterior composed of layers of collagen and proteins that acts as a protective layer for the nucleus pulposus, helping keep it intact when pressure is applied to the spine. Intervertebral discs allow the vertebral column to be flexible and protect it from damage from everyday activities, such as running, walking, bending, and jumping.
Intervertebral discs are not vascular, meaning they do not consist of blood vessels or have a blood supply. They depend on the end plates of the spine for nutrients. End plates are located at the ends of each disc, separating the vertebral bone from the disc itself. Glucose, oxygen, and other nutrients reach the inside of the discs through the process of diffusion.
Although these discs are known as “shock absorbers”, they are actually not as flexible as you might think. There is actually little, if any, room for discs to slip or move. Additionally, the fluid-filled sacs begin to solidify as we age. As this happens, the discs become less elastic, making them more prone to injury. The discs become dehydrated and the cartilage surrounding them stiffens. This is part of the normal aging process. If you have an issue with an intervertebral disc, there’s a good chance that you will know– It is often quite painful. Some common disc problems include herniated discs and bulged discs. Both of these issues are often caused by gradual, aging-related wear and tear, known as disc degeneration.
Since intervertebral discs play an important role in keeping the spine protected, it is important that we do our best to keep them in the best possible condition. Although we cannot prevent normal wear and tear due to aging, there are some other steps we can take. Let’s take a look!
Improve your posture.
A good way to care for your intervertebral discs and your spine as a whole is by improving your posture. This can be done in a few different ways. Generally, there are two different kinds of posture: Dynamic and static posture. Dynamic posture refers to your posture while you are moving, such as walking, running, or bending down. Static posture refers to your posture while you are not moving, such as sitting, standing, or sleeping. The key to both dynamic and static posture is the position of your spine. Correct posture should maintain the spine’s natural curves, without increasing them. Be mindful of your posture during everyday activities. When standing, stand up straight and tall and put your shoulders back. Pull your stomach in and keep your head level, with your arms hanging naturally at your sides. When sitting, keep your feet on the floor, rather than crossing your legs. Relax your shoulders and make sure that your back is fully supported. If you are sitting for a long period of time, be sure to stretch and change positions frequently.
Lift heavy objects correctly.
There is a proper way to lift heavy objects. This is sometimes referred to as “good body mechanics”. Lifting heavy objects is one of the most common ways that people end up with back injuries. When lifting something off of the floor, do not lift from a standing position with your knees locked or waist bent. Instead, stand close to the object, kneel with one knee resting on the floor, and use your legs to lift yourself and the object up. Instead of kneeling, you may also choose to squat. Let your legs do the work, and avoid twisting your body. Slowly straighten your hips and knees– Not your back. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips as you move.
Get the right mattress.
It may be surprising, but the mattress you sleep on can have a huge impact on your spinal health! Generally, a fairly firm and supportive mattress is best. This will support the body’s weight and allow your muscles to decompress and relax. However, if a mattress is too firm, or too soft, it won’t support your spine correctly. Additionally, the posture in which you sleep can play a huge role in the overall health of your back and spine. Sleep posture refers to the position your body is in during or prior to sleep. Some of the best sleep postures are sleeping flat on your back, sleeping on your side, or sleeping in the fetal position. For more information about sleep and chiropractic care, check out one of my previous blogs!
Maintain a healthy weight.
We have all heard the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, but did you know that it’s also beneficial to your spine? Excess weight can alter the natural curvature of your spine, and it especially affects your pelvis, back, and knees. Extra weight means extra stress on your spine and joints. Additionally, extra weight can press on intervertebral discs, causing them to become herniated or causing pressure on nerves. Dropping only a few pounds can make a big difference and help reduce back pain, or prevent it. Maintaining a healthy weight means making changes to your diet, participating in regular physical exercise, getting adequate sleep, and reducing stress. Incorporating healthy foods into your diet, meal planning, and being mindful of calories are all good ways to get on track to maintaining a healthy weight.
As you can see, intervertebral discs play a big role in our everyday activities, and taking care of them as best as we can is key to preventing back issues down the road. If you have any further questions or concerns, I encourage you to reach out to us. As a chiropractor, I can also provide you with nutritional advice and other recommendations for lifestyle changes that can help you keep your spine functioning at its best. I hope you found this article informative. If you have any concerns about your bone health, consider reaching out to Lowcountry Chiropractic! We specialize in different chiropractic techniques, as well as both therapeutic and Swedish massage. Send us an email or give us a call and we’ll assess the situation and develop a treatment plan to address your needs. We want to help you live a healthy and pain-free life– it’s what you deserve. As always, this is Dr. Bob and I have your back covered!
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