Most people will develop problems with a degenerated disc in their back or neck at some time in their life. But will the problem be just a slight stiffness that goes away after you get moving and doesn’t start to become noticeable until you are over 90 years old? Or will it give you pain and disability when you are in your 20’s. Here are some answers:
Why are healthy discs important?
Spinal discs act like spacers and shock absorbers between each of the vertebrae in your spine.
The spacing between each vertebra is very important because the movement of each vertebrae not only keeps us healthy but normal movement keeps pain from developing. When our spinal joints all move properly we have more energy, better flexibility, less pain and better over all health.
Bulging, unhealthy discs sometimes hurt spinal nerves that exit openings on each side of your spine and travel past the discs to get to your organs or muscles.
A degenerated disc is thinner than a thick healthy disc. And the thinner disc will not allow the normal spinal motion that helps keep you healthy. This may give you pain, weakness or lack of feeling.
Because a degenerated disc is flatter than a thick healthy one it no longer keeps the spinal joints in alignment which leads to spinal arthritis and pain. Also, because a degenerating disc no longer keeps the proper distance between the vertebrae the bones can squeeze the spinal nerves which is very painful.
Spinal discs have nerves that go to their outer coverings so if a disc is injured or ripped, it will hurt.
Once you are an adult your spinal discs do not have blood vessels that bring them direct nourishment. The disc relies on spinal motion that “pumps” nutritious fluid from the vertebral bodies above and below them into the disc. Without this pumping action, the disc cannot remain healthy. This is why you should keep your spine moving as optimally as possible.
What hurts spinal discs?
Accident injuries to the spine will cause eventual faster degeneration of spinal discs.
High impact sports like football cause early disc degeneration sometimes by decades (a 20 something year old spine will look like a 40 something year old spine).
Repetitive stress like repeated bending and lifting, sleeping on your stomach, sitting for hours and hours at a time can over time can cause discs to degenerate.
Ignoring and not getting spinal stiffness corrected will over time cause disc degeneration.
What helps spinal discs?
The same factors that age every system of our bodies also cause aging and degeneration of our spinal discs. Consequently disc health depends on:
- Good genetics
- Avoiding high mechanical loads (lifting very heavy things)
- Avoiding repetitive abnormal loads (lifting awkward or heavy things over and over, think digging ditches)
- Maintaining optimal spinal vertebra motion to optimize the transfer of nutrient-filled fluid from the vertebrae into the disc (this is where the chiropractic adjustment comes in)
- Avoiding sudden and forceful trunk muscle contractions
- Minimizing eating foods that increase free radicals (like those high in sugar)
- Eating a healthy diet high in anti-oxidants (lots of colorful veggies) or taking anti-oxidant supplements (like a high quality multivitamin)
- Avoiding inflammation: through a healthy balanced diet and maintaining a good Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acid balance
- Avoiding lots of sugars and refined carbohydrates
- Engaging in regular moderate exercise that gives moderate spinal loading
- Not smoking (smoking speeds disc degeneration)
You can help your discs out by getting regular chiropractic care before you get stiff, much like going to your dentist before your teeth hurt.
And, if your spine does feels stiff a lot, it is important to get regular chiropractic care. Chiropractic adjustments work to keep all your spinal joints moving as normally as possible before that stiffness becomes chronic pain. The good spinal motion that you maintain helps slow any disc degeneration.
If you did play high impact sports or have suffered accidents in the past that hurt your spine, then regular chiropractic care may slow the disc degeneration process.
Chiropractic care finds the areas of your spine where you are starting to lose mobility. Then chiropractic adjustments restore the motion to those vertebrae that is so important for your discs stay healthy.