Disc Facts

A quick look at how discs work and what they’re made of can help you understand why they’re sometimes blamed for back problems.

What’s a Disc?  Each vertebra in your spine is separated from it’s neighbor by a cushion of cartilage called a disc.  Discs, in fact, make up one-third of your spine’s height and serve as hydraulic shook absorbers.  The outer ring of the cartilage cushion, called the annulus fibrosa, is dense and layered with crisscrossed fibers, like the covering of a radial tire.  The interior cartilage, the nucleus pulposus, is soft and squishy, like thick jelly.disc

Healthy Discs – are like springs; they compress and release with you back’s movement. They’re flexible spacers between vertebrae, giving the bony parts and tissues of the vertebral joints room to breathe and move.  At night, when your discs are free from the pull of gravity, they soak up nutrients and water from your blood, so you’re usually at your tallest in the morning.

Aging Discs – as you age, your discs lose moisture.  They lose their ability to repair themselves after injury, disease or just plain wear and tear.  As the disc loses moisture, it also loses height, which can put pressure on nerves and affect the way the joints of your vertebrae line up.  The good news is that as the disc center loses moisture and shrinks, less pressure is put on the annulus, so that a disc injury is less likely.

Herniated Discs – a herniated disc is the most severe disc problem, often caused by a sudden injury.  When the disc covering weakens before it’s center has dried out,  the pressure from the center can cause the annulus to crack or rupture and the nucleus pulposa to ooze out.  This protrusion can be mild, or it can cause severe pain, depending on how much of the disc center escapes and whether it presses against a nerve.  Sometimes surgery is the only solution for a herniated disc.

Bulging Discs – rather than what are commonly called “slipped disc,” discs sometimes bulge out from between the vertebrae.  This is especially true in the lower back.  A bulging  disc can irritate a nerve root or ligament, causing pain that tends to come and go.  It can be brought on by bending forward.

Your Spine

Hardly none of us has escaped occasional back pain.  For some it’s the sharp pain of a sudden injury; for others it’s a dull nagging ache that seems to never go away.  Injury, misuse and the aging process can lead to spinal problems that cause pain, stiffness, tingling or numbness in your back.

Your Spine – It starts with an “S” to understand what causes spinal problems, you must understand how your spine works.  The bones of your spine, called vertebrae, are separated by small shock-absorbing discs.  Rather than forming a straight column, they form three curves balanced one above the other.  Muscles in your back, abdomen and legs help keep your spine in its natural S-shape.  This position distributes your body weight evenly to protect your vertebrae and discs from injury and wear.

Improper posture – such as slouching with your shoulders slumped and your head forward or standing in a swaybacked position puts stress on your spine and causes the vertebrae and discs to move out of the balanced position.  Too much forward bending and excessive backward bending can speed the aging process of your vertebrae and discs, leading to ruptured disc, arthritis and instability.

  • Your discs have a soft center called the nucleus, surrounded by a series of tough outer rings called the annulus.
  • Over time, your discs lose moisture and elasticity, so it’s harder for them to bounce back into place.
  • Discs can’t really “slip,” but swelling or years of poor posture can leave them sticking out from between the vertebrae.  The vertebrae squeeze the bulging disc and cause pain.
  • A bulging disc can become a ruptured or herniated disc.  As pressure on the disc builds, the nucleus can tear the annulus and squeeze out and put pressure on the spinal nerve.

Protect you back from premature wear and tear by using correct posture and learning how to prevent back injuries.

Break bad habits such as slouching and bending over your desk or workspace.

Avoid carrying loads that cause you to lean back into a swayback position.

What’s In Your Back?

Your back is an intricate network of muscles, ligaments, discs and nerves.  It’s a delicate system with a big job.  Your back carries most of your body’s weight and supports your spinal column, the main pathway of your nervous system.

The Parts of Your Back
Vertebrae – Small bones called vertebrae form your spine.  Your spine supports your head and trunk, makes your body flexible and protects your spinal cord.  There are five types of vertebrae:chart

  • Seven small, flexible cervical vertebrae support your skull and neck.
  • Your chest cavity is formed by 24 ribs extending from 12 thoracic vertebrae.
  • The five lumbar vertebrae are the largest and carry most of your body weight.
  • Five fused vertebrae below your lumbar vertebrae from the sacrum.
  • Fused vertebrae from the coccyx, or tailbone.

Discs – In between your vertebrae are shock absorbers called discs.  Discs have a strong outer casing with a pliable jelly-like substance inside.

Spinal Cord – Your spinal cord, with your brain, forms your central nervous system.  It’s about 18 inches long and a half inch thick.  It runs through a canal in your vertebrae.

Nerves – About 31 pairs of nerves branch out form your spinal  cord and travel throughout your body.  These nerves carry commands to your organs and muscles and relay messages about touch, temperature and pain.

Muscles – Some 400 muscles work together to keep your spine steady, maintain your posture and help you move.

Tendons – More than 1,000 tendons connect muscles to your bones

Ligaments – Bands of tissue between your bones support your back and keep it from moving more than it should.

Your Supporting Role
Your back supports you in everything you do.  Your role is to support your back by using good posture, exercise and body mechanics to keep it strong, flexible and balanced.

Understanding Your Back

What Makes a Healthy Back?
Your back is your body’s main support.  Along with your muscles and joints it allows you to move and carry weight.  But your back is also a delicate, finely balanced structure that can be easily injured if not cared for properly.  Knowing the basics of back care can make the difference between a healthy back and an aching one.

The Parts of Your Backback1
Your backbone (or spinal column) is composed of 24 move-able bones called vertebrae.  Separating the vertebrae are cushion-like pads, called discs, that absorb shock.  Ligaments and muscles support these vertebrae and discs and keep your back properly aligned in three balanced curves.  When any of these various parts becomes diseased, injured or weakened, back problems and pain are almost certain to follow.

A Question of Balance
A healthy back is a balanced back when your cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back) and lumbar (lower back) curves are properly aligned.  You know your back is aligned properly when your ears, shoulders and hips are “stacked” in a straight line.  Flexible “elastic” discs and well conditioned muscles also help protect and align healthy backs.

When Your Back Aches
Understanding how your back works and what can go wrong is the key to taking good care of it.  Certain medical conditions can cause back pain. But most backaches come from poor posture and weak supporting muscles.back

Poor posture puts too much strain on your spinal column and over time can lead to sudden or chronic back pain.  Weak muscles, since they aren’t strong enough to support the spinal column, can contribute to poor posture and back injuries.  By using good posture when you sit, stand, lift, recline and move, and by keeping off excess weight and exercising the muscles that support your back, you can help prevent the most common causes of backaches.


Golf: Hit Farther, Straighter, and Play Longer

In golf, when people utter these words, everyone listens.  Is it the shoes?  What driver are they using?  What golf guru did they visit, video did they buy or book did they read?  Americans are obsessed with golf, and on average spend thousands of dollars each year to find ways to play better. Don’t get me wrong; having the best knowledge of the game, instructor to guide you and the right equipment in your bag is important when it comes to golf.  However, one very important part of the game that most people overlook is the body’s ability to perform the correct motions required to hit a golf ball successfully and without injury.

We’ve heard this from the pros when asked, “What does it feel like to hit the perfect golf shot?”  Their answer, much to our surprise is, “Effortless.”  How can this be?  Of course we know that we are not supposed to grip it and rip it, so why do we?  Especially when afterwards there is that sudden twinge of pain in the lower back. that tells you something you did was not in your golf game’s best interest.  What do they know that we don’t?  I contend that whether professional golfers know it or not, that they are biomechanical geniuses when it comes to a functional golf swing.

What is the most common injury in golfers?  It may not surprise that lower back pain is the answer, both in amateurs and professionals.  Most golfers already know this.  They will show you this intimate knowledge prior to the round when the they dig in their golf bag for Tylenol, Motrin or some other form of self-medication to ensure that their lower back doesn’t get the best of their game.  Instead of asking what type of equipment is needed to play golf better, the question should be, “What should I take care of personally that is required for an effortless golf swing?”

Lower back pain in golfers is primarily derived from the rotation of the lumbar spine at the top of the backswing followed by a rigorous de-rotation of the spine through the downswing and hyperextension in the follow through.  The golf swing itself generates compression loads of more than eight times (8X’s) the body weight (1339 lbs to 1674 lbs).  Shear forces occur in a variety of sports where there is load with movement being placed on the spine.  For example rowing generates 189lbs of peak shear forces, and doing squat exercises with weight lifting generates 154 lbs of peak shear forces.  What about golf?  Obviously there is the twisting of the spine and the interaction of the musculature that is involved during the swing.  Golf peak shear forces found in amateurs equaled about 125 lbs compared to those found in professional golfers of 73 lbs.  Amateur golfers on average generate 80% greater peak lateral bending, or sideways movement, and shear loads than the pros.

This difference exemplifies the lack of knowledge about the golf swing.