Spinal Disc 101

Degenerative Disc Disease | DFW Center for Spinal Disorders TXMost of us know our spine is made up of a stacking of sorts with alternating vertebrae and spinal discs. It is the discs that cause many of the issues we have with back pain.

So how much do you know about these little gel-filled items? Let’s have a little session on them — Spinal Discs 101.

What is a spinal disc?

Formally called vertebral discs (sorry), the spinal discs have a structure unique in the body. They serve a variety of purposes that are given to different structures elsewhere in the body.

The primary purpose of the discs is to play the role of shock absorber between the adjacent vertebrae. But their job isn’t done there. The discs also act as ligaments that hold the vertebrae of the spine together. Then they also have a third job as cartilage-like joints that allow for a degree of mobility in the spine.

When you take into account there are 23 vertebral discs in the spinal column, these varied jobs performed by the spinal discs are critical to our mobility.

What they’re made of

Each disc is like a candy bar with a crunchy outer layer and gooey caramel inside. Except you don’t want to eat your spinal discs. They have a tough outer skin called annulus fibrosus. This is made of sheets of collagen fibers.

The inner core is called the nucleus pulposus. It is made up of a loose network of fibers suspended in a mucoprotein gel.

So, what you have is an outer shell that holds in the gel inside. The gel is what does the shock absorbing between the vertebrae.

What goes wrong

At birth, our discs are 80 percent water. That’s part of why (coupled with bones that aren’t finished growing and are somewhat soft) children rarely have back problems. The discs need to be well hydrated to function properly. Over time, however, the discs dehydrate and stiffen. Like a piece of bubble gum that stiffens the longer you chew it, the discs become less malleable and able to adjust to the forces of compression.

The discs have very few nerve endings and no blood supply. So when something like a twisting injury occurs and damages the disc, it doesn’t have any way to repair itself. So, if the injury ruptures the outer membrane, the inner material can push outward and may come into contact with nerves exiting the spine. The damaged disc can then impinge upon those nerves for years causing chronic back pain.

That’s where we come in at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders. We will get to the cause of your back pain and help you alleviate it. Call us at 817-916-4685 if you’re having issues with your back.

Posted in: Spinal Disorders

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