The human spine typically has 24 vertebrae and 23 discs between them. These discs contain a very thick, jelly-like substance (nucleus pulposis) that acts as a cushion and are surrounded by rings of fibrous material (annular fibers) to contain it. Discs like most other joints in the body have no direct blood supply, therefore they require motion (properly aligned motion) in order for the joint surfaces to rub against one another and "work in" nutrition and lubrication then "work out" waste product. This is one of the reasons keeping properly hydrated is essential (64 oz everyday). Joints will not lubricate appropriately if the body is lacking water leading to an increased rate of degeneration.
Disc injuries mostly happen in two ways, major trauma and minor trauma. Major injuries like car accidents and other major traumas where the fibers are ripped and the disc material can bulge, protrude, or herniate immediately. Minor traumas like poor posture repetitive actions can progress just like classic arthritis but as the disc degenerates the fiber get weak and slowly give out. This typically leads to "the straw that broke the camel's back" scenario, bent over to pick up a pen and there is pop and then back and leg pain. A disc injury may be suspected by an x-ray but MRI is the gold standard for diagnosing the presence and extent of a disc injury.
We would prefer to avoid disc degeneration by being proactive and finding weak dysfunctional regions and correct them with chiropractic adjustments and core strengthening. Once a disc injury happens the evaluation becomes more important, we have to now decide between conservative care (adjustments, core strengthening, and axial traction (decompression therapy)) or aggressive treatment (surgery). Most orthopedic and neurosurgeons prefer to attempt conservative care for a period of time before surgery as long as there is no evidence that nerve damage is not present or progressing.
If you suspect a disc injury it is important to get evaluated for the extent of the problem and know your options for care. Please call us for an appointment at 412-795-2900