The Unsung Hero of the Back

by Dr. John Roberts V, MD 13. May 2014 06:05

Dr. John Roberts

Nestled between our vertebrae is the unsung hero of the vertebrate spine: the disc. Much is known about the disc but there is little discussion about it. It is primarily a cartilaginous structure with a soft, pulpy center that is surrounded by bands of tissue that become progressively stiffer as you near the outer rim. It is a very effective shock absorber and actually resembles a run-flat tire with its stiff outer fibers. The disc quietly goes about its business as it allows us to bend routinely up to 200,000 times per year. It protects the spine from shock as we take up to 2 million steps in a normal year. Imagine what we put it through as a marathon runner or as a football player? What is even more remarkable is that the disc has a tenuous blood supply at best. In fact, it has the metabolic activity of a snail. Consequently, the disc we have through life is pretty much the same disc you were born with. This is an impressive feat when you consider what we put our discs through. But there are a few simple words of advice to actually help preserve our discs: stop smoking because the combined carbon-monoxide and nicotine strangle the discs tenuous blood supply, lose those extra holiday pounds for the obvious added stress they cause, avoid awkward or excessively heavy lifting and use mechanical aids where possible, always use the best ergonomics when possible. More to follow on the ergonomic recommendations…

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