The disc…What is it? Do I have a problem with mine? Is that what is making my back hurt so much? Do I need surgery? Why does it make my leg hurt? Can you see it on an x-ray? These are all questions we encounter on a daily basis in our office. The disc is essentially made up of two different types of tissue. There is an outside part called the annulus fibrosis that is a fibrous, tougher tissue and an inside part called the nucleus pulposus that is more gelatinous. As we age, wear and tear causes compression of the disc leading to degeneration. Degeneration shrinks the overall height of the discs and therefore may be a reason why people shrink with age. Unfortunately, once degeneration is present, it can’t be reversed. Furthermore, as we age, years of wear produce micro tears within the annulus fibrosis. These small tears can trigger an inflammatory response which can put pressure on surrounding structures. Chemical irritants are also present in an inflammatory response causing pain to the tissues around the disc. The inner nucleus pulposus normally dries up with age. By the time you hit 60 years old, it may be completely dried up. When it dries up, that leads to a lack of cushiony support. This lack of support can lead to further degeneration eventually becoming so thin that the vertebra rub against each other. The key to maintaining disc height and support is to stay well hydrated, exercise, and protect the back from poor biomechanics. This information was mainly to give a broad picture of what the disc is. The next blog will be more specifically about what happens when the disc is injured.
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