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Discs and Donuts: Why the Spine Needs Discs

Publish Date
December 27, 2021

Why are there discs in our spines? What are they, and why do we need them? 


To start, let us talk about what these discs are. You may have heard the analogy that the discs in your back are like a jelly doughnut. Fluid should fill the disc, kind of like the strawberry jelly in one of these treats. Rings make up the outer lining of the disc, and in the center, there is a jelly-like fluid. When a disc is healthy, it is somewhat oval-shaped, the fluid is in the center of the disc, and the rings are strong and thick.


Now that you have a better visual of how these discs look let us talk about their location. These discs are between each vertebral body, and one of each disc’s jobs is to absorb the stress and shock the body incurs during movement. The discs prevent the vertebrae from grinding against one another. The discs are the largest structures in the body without a blood supply. You can think of them as sneakers for your back. They absorb each step, jump or load that you place throughout your spine.

As we age, these discs start to lose their fluid, meaning the space between vertebrae decreases. Think about the jelly donut analogy. If you put pressure on the top of the donut, the jelly inside would start spreading out towards the sides of the donut, making it flatter. It is the same with the discs. As that fluid decreases, the disc gets flatter, and the space between the vertebra gets smaller. This can cause pain, stiffness, and even neurological symptoms such as burning, tingling, and numbness. The muscles around the back have to work harder to keep everything steady. Our spine is a very long piece of equipment, so these symptoms can occur anywhere along the length of the spine and impact daily activities.


It can be hard to take the first step to treat a disc issue, especially if you do not feel like your symptoms impact your daily activities, at least not all the time. However, it is essential to address these issues head-on and soon as possible, so they do not progress. What can start as an irritated or ‘slipped’ disc with localized pain and discomfort symptoms can progress into a bulging disc or even a ruptured disc when ignored.


Risk factors for disc problems include obesity, advancing age, a lack of exercise, and incorrect lifting techniques. Pregnancy and other life-altering events can also make people more prone to disc problems.


The root cause of a disc problem is that somehow, there is pressure on the disc, which is putting pressure on something else, and is why you feel the symptoms mentioned earlier. The good news is that Physical Therapy is a very effective treatment method for disc problems. During an evaluation at Comprehensive Physical Therapy, a Physical Therapist can determine what is causing the pressure on the discs in your spine and design a personalized plan of care to relieve that pressure and, therefore, reduce the symptoms you are feeling. 

That plan of care will involve targeted strengthening and stretching and, most importantly, hands-on, Manual Therapy to reduce pressure in the spine. 


Give us a call today at (985) 869-7221 and start handling your pain for good.

By Dr. Billy Beaudreau, PT, DPT, MTC, OCS, FAAOMPT


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