What is Herniated Disc?
Learn More About It
Hey guys, I always get the question, "Dr. Todd, what is a herniated disc?" Okay? So we're going to talk about what a disc is in general, what a herniated disc is, why it happens, how it happens, and how to avoid it, but once it happens, what do we do about it, and can we correct it? Okay? So first, let's talk about what a disc is. A disc is like a wet leather washer that holds the bones apart. We hear this very often like I remember when I was in sixth grade, we heard everyone talking about the discs being shock absorbers. I remember seeing a video in sixth grade way before I knew I was going to be a chiropractor of kids on a teeter-totter and they showed these stacks of coffee cups. They showed them bouncing up and down on the teeter-totter, and they said the discs are shock absorbers. But let me tell you, discs are sometimes shock absorbers, but when they are, you're in big trouble, and here's why. The discs are not supposed to be absorbing shock. They're supposed to be transmitting force and allowing movement. What's supposed to absorb shock is the curve in your spine. You have three of them, one in your neck, one in your middle back, and one in your lower back, and when those curves are there, it flexes like your knees bend and flex. If you were to go down 30 flights of stairs, if your knees can bend, that's normal. That's what it's supposed to happen.
If your knees can't bend, you're going down 30 flights of stairs like that. You think you might have trouble in your knees at the end of those 30 flights? Probably so, right? So the discs don't absorb shock, the curve does, so that's why it's so important to maintain the curve, especially in your neck, but really your mid back and your low back are also very important. So let's take a look here at why. So here, the spinal cord is in a normal shape, this curved shape, but when we straighten it, it puts a strain and tension on the spinal cord, which is the most important part to chiropractors. We're really doctors of the nervous system, not doctors of joints or bones or discs, but that nervous system is critically supposed to be in that curved shape, but when we shift that forward, it puts a massive additional load on those joints, up to 200 times more pressure on those discs. They can't last that long. If I were to duct tape my arm like this and or put a cast on it for 10, 15, 20 years, and can't move it at all, and then suddenly take the cast off, do you think that joint's going to move very well? It's probably not. So when we have subluxations, misalignments, or abnormal loading, it puts all that pressure on those discs, and they're going to degenerate.
Okay, so let's look at another view of that. And the other thing with that spinal cord is the work of Dr. Alf Breig, a very famous neurosurgeon. This was in 1978. He discovered this. When the curve is there, I don't know how well you can see this, but the curve, when the curve is in the spine, these nerve fibers through there, this is the spinal cord in cross-section, they're relaxed, there's no tension, and the same thing is on the disc when the curve is there, they're relaxed, and there's no tension. So when the neck goes straight and then shifts forward, it increases the length on average by about 28% and stretches out that cord while compressing those discs, creating pathological or disease-causing tension in the body. So going back to our images here, so the disc, this is what that... This part right here is the disc, which is called the nucleus, and these fibers around here are called the annulus fibrosus. Okay? So those, that's just, annulus means ring, and fibrosis means it's fibrous tissue around there. So what happens is, when there's pressure on a disc for a long period of time, this is the spinal cord, and these are the nerves out here, we see that that pressure, it's like an ice cream sandwich.
If I'm to squeeze an ice cream sandwich on one edge, the ice cream squeezes out the other. I hope you've had an ice cream sandwich. If you don't, make sure you have an ice cream sandwich, but not all the time. So the disc squeezes out. That's what we call herniated because the nucleus squeezes and pushes those fibers. It can hurt sometimes, and it often takes 20 to 25 years of this problem to even get any pain from it, so take care of your spine way before this problem, but it can exert pressure on that nerve, and sometimes people feel pain there. Most of the time, they'll feel pain down their arm or if this is in the low back, down their leg, more than they do even in the low back. They say, "Doc, the problem's in my arm, it's not in my neck," but the cause is in the neck, and if we let this go too long, the disc will actually rupture. We can get a piece, a sequestrated fragment, or a piece that actually extrudes or pulls off of the disc itself—nothing we ever want. We're looking at another view of that. So when the spine's in alignment, that nucleus is healthy, the annulus fibrosus surrounding there are healthy, the nerves are healthy, but when it misaligns and loads forward because we lose that curve, the disc starts to herniate or push out the back right there. That is no bueno. We do not want that.
So when we leave it out of alignment for longer, the joints around there, we call it osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis or degenerative disc disease or degenerative joint disease, are synonymous. It's not really a disease, even though we call it that. What it is, is the spine not working right, and just like we said with the elbow, that joint can only stand so much load and pressure. We are amazingly adaptable, but when it's that much pressure over that much time, they start to bulge out, and if we don't fix it there, it will degenerate further and get worse and worse. So what do we do about that? Well, it depends on how early we catch it. Ideally, if we look at this model, hopefully, we catch it just subluxated, just misaligned in the early stages.
That's about the first 15 years; we don't see much degeneration in the bones themselves or even in the discs. Our body is so resilient. 15 years of pressure, and we start to see what we call phase two, which means that the disc has grown thinner and the joints are narrower, and here this person has a herniated disc right there, and that's compressing on the nerve. So we can catch it in phase two. Once it's phase two, we can't make it perfect again. Although my colleagues are publishing a study right now, we do the most proven system in the world of regenerating this alignment here and regenerating the discs, so we are seeing consistent regeneration in some of these discs, but you have to do your work. You got to do your blocks. You got to do your exercise. You got to do your traction, but if we do that, we can see it regenerate some, but we're not seeing it go perfectly. Once it's degenerated, the bones have changed shape. They've molded. They've developed arthritis. We're not seeing it perfect, but we are seeing it improve, and if we don't correct it in phase two, about another 15 years of that, and we see phase three, which is where we're seeing this bony spurs here.
You can see it in three dimensions, and we see the disc degenerate further; if we don't correct it there, it will go into phase four, which is almost complete degeneration of that disc. So obviously, the earlier we catch it, the better. The ideal is that we check your kids, or if you're a child listening to this video, tell your parents, the mom gets me in. Get me checked. Let's find out what their posture is like because if they... There's a saying in the Bible, "If you bring them up in the way they should go when they're older, they won't depart from it." So if we can grow their spine correctly and healthily, if you like adverbs because that's how you're supposed to say it, if we can grow them correctly, then their posture will be normal. They're not going to have any of the same problems that you and your parents and your cousins and your friends have grown up with. So make sure to start as early as possible with correct, proper analysis of the actual alignment of the spine and proper corrective techniques if you need correction. If your spine is perfect or amazing, keep it that way with regular tune-ups.
So I hope that answers any questions you have about what a herniated disc is. Very, very, very important topic, and I do get that question a lot. So if you do have any questions, let us know anytime. We're happy to answer them for you, and we appreciate you tuning in. Thanks so much.