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Herniated Disc? Why good discs go bad?

by | Oct 31, 2016

Ok, so you’ve been told you, or someone you care about has a slipped or herniated disc. You are probably very confused ( made worse by the back or neck pain ).  The point of this article is to help explain how this happened, and most likely…

The cause is not what you think it is.

I can make this claim after 28 years in practice dealing with slipped discs in all areas of the spine.  Every patient believes it was the event, the: lifting the suitcase, bending to pick up the baby, too much exercise, too little exercise, pulling on the rope, going into the yoga pose, jumping off the boat, I could go on and on these are just a few of the “ Causes” I have heard from patients in the past few months.  The one thing all these events have in common…

This is what allowed the disc to slip, but not what caused it.

Those events were the proverbial: straw that broke the camel’s back.   The problem was already there, it was an accident waiting to happen.

But I felt fine just before, then my disc slipped”.

I know that’s how it seems but it isn’t how it happened: because…

No healthy disc can slip, bulge, herniate,or extrude without pre-existing damage.

The amount of force it would take for a healthy disc to slip would cause the vertebra above or below, or both, to be broken and pulverized first. But once the disc is not healthy it doesn’t take much force at all.

“So how do discs become, not healthy ?”…

The disc and the two adjacent vertebra make up the vertebral motion segment.  A healthy disc relies on the motion of those two vertebra to stay healthy, here’s how…

The disc is made up of two components, the annulus and the nucleus.

The healthy annulus is layer upon layer of strong cartilage bands that wrap around the inner, semi liquid part of the disc called the nucleus. The fibers of the annulus attach directly into the outer border of those two adjacent vertebra. There shape actually helps the disc become stronger as you move. The healthy nucleus is filled with as much fluid as possible, allowing  it to act more like a solid than a liquid.  It becomes almost like a ball for the vertebra to pivot around.

 Something starts during your teens that sets the stage for disc problems.

All cells in your body rely on blood flow. The blood carries nutrients and oxygen to the cells and carries away waste.  This “circulation” keeps your cells and you, healthy.  But during your teen years…the blood vessels that once supplied the disc start to “pull out” and are completely gone by your twenties.

So how does your disc receive the nutrients and fluids it needs to stay healthy?

By acting like a sponge between the two vertebra. Tiny blood vessels extend from the vertebra above and below into the nucleus and inner annulus border of the disc. Here is the important part…as long as the vertebra can go through a normal range of motion the flow of fluids and nutrients remains high, and the disc is healthy. However…

If the vertebra don’t go through a normal range of motion…

the flow of fluids and nutrients becomes low and the disc, acting like a sponge, is not able to receive all it needs.  Just like any sponge, if you don’t add water it is going to start to shrink up, and dry up.  As the nucleus portion shrinks the disc becomes shorter from top to bottom, this puts more stress on the outer covering and allows tears to start, so now the annulus may have many small rips or creases.  As the fluid level of the nucleus decreases it starts acting less like a solid and more like a liquid.

Imagine a fully filled balloon…

If you press on it, there isn’t much give.It’s hard to get your hands closer together. Now let some of that air out, press again: what happened?  Your hands got closer and the balloon bulged on the edges.

That is what happens to your disc.

Now when you combine the rips and tears of the annulus with the nucleus acting more liquid than solid.  This allows for the nucleus to start to move through those rips and tears and a slipped disc is born. But…

 It all starts with the vertebra not being able to go through a normal range of motion.

So your real problem started years before: “It’s just a little back pain, nothing to worry about, it will go away on it’s own like always…” or maybe it is years of sitting at a desk, or maybe it is years of doing the same repetitive motion over and over.  It is the lack of normal motion of the vertebra that ALWAYS IS THE TRUE CAUSE OF MUSCULOSKELETAL BACK PAIN.

It is locating the problem and restoring normal motion,

that offers a true solution.  Anything short of that will offer only temporary relief at best.

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Dr. Canty has run an office in San Mateo on 25th Ave. since 1988. Our office is conveniently located on the corner of 25th Ave. and Flores St. in the Manor Theater Building.
32 W 25th Ave #100
San Mateo, CA 94403
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