Spinal Disc Basics

Spinal Disc Basics | Degenerative Disc Disease Fort Worth TXThe vertebral discs between your vertebrae are interesting little customers. You hear people talk about them and injury. I have a “slipped disc.” A “disintegrated disc.” A “ruptured disc.” A “torn disc.”

Some of those descriptions fit; others don’t. But since we are all about spinal discs at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders, here’s some information of these critical shock absorbers in our spinal column.

What is a spinal disc?

There are a total of 23 vertebral discs in the spinal column. These discs are composed of two parts: a tough outer portion and a soft inner core. Think of it as a jelly donut or sorts.

These 23 jelly donuts have three primary jobs:

  • They are shock absorbers in the spine, positioned between each bony vertebra.
  • They act as tough ligaments that hold the vertebrae of the spine together.
  • They work similar to cartilage, allowing the spine a greater degree of movement.

When problems arise, the pain can originate in the disc itself, or it comes from a disc pressing on a nearby nerve.

Discs through time

Discs have the tough outer “annulus fibrosus,” and the “nucleus pulposus,” the gooey center. The outer portion is made of concentric sheets of collagen fibers, while the inner core is a loose network of fibers suspended in a mucoprotein gel. The outer portion and inner portion fit together like two concentric cylinders.

The annulus fibrosus has cartilaginous endplates that attach the discs to the vertebrae above and below.

When we’re very young, roughly 80 percent of our discs are made of water. Over time, the discs dehydrate and become stiffer. This makes the discs less able to deal with compression. This degeneration is a part of aging, but for some people, it can become, at times, painful. As the discs degenerate, inflammatory proteins from the soft inner core can leak out of the disc space and inflame the nerves and nerve fibers in and around the disc. This can happen with an injury, or simply degeneration with time. This is a problem in the discs because they don’t have any blood, so there is no mechanism to repair themselves.

Degenerative disc disease

This title is not accurate. First, degenerative disc disease isn’t a disease. Second, it’s not a continuing process, like a disease such as Parkinson’s. Degenerative disc disease is not a “disease,” but a degenerative condition where a damaged disc can cause pain. The disc can continue to degenerate, but much of this is simply a natural part of aging (such as dehydration).

Still, your discs are awesome when they’re healthy and can cause lots of pain when they go bad. That’s where we come in at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders. Whether a disc has herniated and the inner material is pressing on a nerve, or whether the damage is great enough to merit a spinal fusion, those are the kinds of situations we treat every day. If you have back pain, it could be due to disc issues. Call us at 817-916-4685 and let’s check it out.

Posted in: Degenerative Disc Disease

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