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Discs and Donuts: Why the Spine Needs Discs

bulging discs

By Kieran Loving, ATC

Why are there discs in our spines? What are they and why do we need them? To start, let’s talk about what these discs are. You may have heard the analogy that the discs in your back are like a jelly doughnut. The disc should be filled with fluid kind of like the strawberry jelly in one of these treats. The outer lining of the disc is made of up rings and then in the center, there is a jelly-like fluid. When a disc is healthy, it is somewhat oval-shaped, the fluid is in the center of the disc and the rings are strong and thick.

Now that you have better visual of what these discs look like, let’s talk about where they’re located. These discs are located between each vertebral body and one of each disc’s jobs is to absorb the stress and shock the body incurs during movement. The discs prevent the vertebrae from grinding against one another. The discs are actually the largest structures in the body without a blood supply. You can think of them like sneakers for your back. They absorb each and every step, jump or load that you place throughout your spine.

As we age, these discs start to lose their fluid. This means the space between each vertebrae starts to decrease. Think about the jelly donut analogy. If you were to put pressure on the top of the donut, the jelly inside would start spreading out towards the sides of the donut, making it flatter. It’s the same with the discs. As that fluid decreases, the disc itself gets flatter and the space in between the vertebra gets smaller. This can cause pain, stiffness and even neurological symptoms such as burning, tingling and numbness. The muscles around the back have to work harder to keep everything steady. Our spine is a very long piece of equipment so these symptoms can occur anywhere along the length of the spine and impact daily activities.

It can be hard to take the first step to treat a disc issue, especially if you don’t feel like your symptoms are impacting your daily activities, at least not all the time. However, it’s important to address these issues head on and as soon as possible so they don’t progress. What can start as an irritated or ‘slipped’ disc with symptoms of localized pain and discomfort, can progress into a bulging disc, or even a ruptured disc when it’s not handled.

Risk factors for disc problems include obesity, advancing age, a lack of exercise and incorrect lifting techniques. Pregnancy and other life-altering events can also make people more prone to disc problems.

The root cause of a disc problem is that somehow, there is pressure being put on the disc, which in turn is putting pressure on something else. This is why you feel the symptoms we mentioned earlier. The good news is that physical therapy is a very effective treatment method for disc problems. During an evaluation at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center, a therapist can determine what is causing the pressure on the discs in your spine and design a personalized plan of care to relieve that pressure and therefore, reduce the symptoms you’re feeling. That plan of care will involve not only targeted strengthening and stretching, but most importantly, hands-on, manual therapy to reduce pressure in the spine. CALL TODAY at 703-450-4300 and start handling your back pain for good! 

For more information on slipped discs, bulging discs and herniated discs and what those warning signs are, CLICK HERE for a short video.

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