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How your discs are similar to jelly donuts

How Does Chiropractic Help Disc Function?

When I am doing a report of findings for a new client at our Chiropractic office in Sandy Springs, and I get to the point where I am explaining how vertebral disc function affects spinal health, my clients often have a deer in the headlights expression on their face.

I believe this is because no one has ever really explained to them what vertebral discs are and how they function. It is important because if you don’t know how spinal discs are meant to function then how will you understand the subsequent health consequences if they are not functioning correctly or how Chiropractic can aid in restoring and maintaining them.

First, it’s important to understand the structure. Your spinal column (the bones) serves three main purposes; 1) to protect the spinal cord like a set of armor 2) to be the foundation of the body 3) to allow motion in all planes. In order to accomplish this the spinal column was made so that it can move at each segment. From top to bottom there are 24 freely movable vertebra. Each pair of adjacent segments are separated by a disc. The vertebral disc’s primary purpose is to act as a shock absorber between adjacent vertebrae. Spinal discs also act as ligaments that hold the vertebrae of the spine together and as cartilaginous joints that allow for slight mobility in the spine. At birth, 80% of a disc is composed of water. That means that throughout life the vertebral discs need to stay well hydrated to ensure their hydrostatic pressure.

In order for our clients to understand what a disc looks like and how it functions, I tell them to picture a jelly donut with the jelly being the Nucleus Pulposus or soft center of your spinal discs. The jelly or Nucleus Pulposus has rings around it that are similar to the rings you would see in the stump of a tree that has been cut down. Their purpose is to hold the jelly in. When your spinal column is in the correct alignment, which is straight when looking from the front and having specific curvature when looking from the side, the center of gravity and axial load of your body is in the center of each spinal disc distributing the weight equally.

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The key to all of the information I have just provided is understanding how the vertebral disc functions. Just like every other cell in the human body the vertebral disc cells (proteoglycans) degenerate and need to be repaired and/or replaced. A little-known fact about the spine is that every one of us loses direct blood supply to our spinal discs by our late teens. The blood stream is the primary way our bodies deliver the essential building blocks for new cells. Without that direct blood supply the only way our vertebral discs get the water, amino acids and sugars they need is through a process called imbibition. I like to use a sponge as an example of how this works. When the discs are compressed, the waste products are pushed out of the disc. When the discs are decompressed or enlarge they suck in the amino acids, water, and sugars, they need to build new proteoglycans from the vertebral endplates above and below. This is where Chiropractic can help disc function. Two ways the vertebral discs do not get what they need from the endplates are; from lack of range of motion due to improper alignment and/or subluxation; and from arthritis forming on the endplates. Chiropractic adjustments are the only way of realigning the vertebra so they can function properly. Not only that, getting adjusted has been shown to reduce the process of arthritic endplate changes.

Without proper alignment and motion of the adjacent segments, a vertebral disc will degenerate. Once a disc degenerates its ability to function at 100% is compromised and leads to more degeneration which is a vicious negative feedback cycle.

I hope this brief explanation of how a disc works helped you understand a little more about the human spine. I don’t want to simply adjust our clients, it is our mission at Corrective Chiropractic – Sandy Springs to educate our clients and the community about how the body works so that we can help each and every one of them reach their optimal health.

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