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Understanding your spine and the causes of disc injury

Having a basic understanding of your back including your spine and the DISCS that sit between each vertebra is crucial in helping you manage pain that may arise from disc injury.

The spine is made up of several areas which allows us to understand which part of the body it is located in. Each spinal vertebral area is designed differently to allow for the movements and actions that we can perform with our bodies.

The spine is has 7 Cervical Vertebrae, 12 Thoracic Vertebrae, 5 Lumbar Vertebrae, 5 Sacral Vertebrae (which are fused naturally in adults) and the coccyx as the tail bone. Each region has different sizes, shapes, angles of joints, and stresses and strains that are placed on it.

In between each vertebra there sits an INTERVERTEBRAL DISC. This acts as a shock absorber and separates the bones of the spinal column.

The disc itself is made up a gelatinous like material consisting of complex proteins that hold and absorb water, maintaining pressure in the disc itself.

The discs can be affected in a few different ways:

  • Bulging where part of the disc material protrudes out of the disc
  • Internal disruption within the disc
  • Desiccation or dehydration of the disc
  • Disc and associated spinal instability

These discs can suffer with “wear and tear” and become less hydrated and then decrease the size of the disc over time. When this occurs, the area of the spine often becomes less stable and increasingly stiff as a result. This may predispose the disc to further wear and tear and cause some pain.

When there is a more acute injury or build up of strain, bulging of the disc can occur which often causes acute pain, stiffness and may require medication and rest for immediate relief.

Osteopathic hands on treatment has shown to give our patients who suffer with both acute and chronic disc injury’s relief from pain, decrease muscle and joint spasm and tightness and increase their range of motion and flexibility. It also has helped in the long term management and psychological understanding of their back pain and why it may be happening, and what else they can do to manage it at home.

The most common areas which cause people pain and discomfort are the areas where the vertebrae change from one to the other, e.g, from the cervical to thoracic spine (base of neck to top of shoulder) and lumbar spine to sacral region (lower back to top of pelvis). These areas tend to have the greatest loads placed through them from everyday living, sitting, postural strains, muscle imbalances, weaknesses and underlying injuries.

Disc degeneration, bulging and instability is managed best with regular exercise such as swimming, walking, Pilates or gentle weights. It is also advised to avoid excessive bending lifting and twisting movements, sitting or standing for extended periods, and avoiding smoking and carrying excess weight.

Tips for helping relieve back pain, postural stain and tightness include:


• Stretch!

It sounds simple, but spending a few minutes several times a day stretching and loosening muscles that have been in a prolonged shortened position for a reasonable length of time makes a HUGE difference to your posture, muscle tightness and even fatigue levels.

Stretches include:

  • Hamstring (back of thigh)
  • Quadriceps (front of thigh)
  • Gluteal muscles (bottom muscles_
  • Hip Flexors (front of hip)
  • Pectoral muscles (chest/armpit region)
  • Neck muscles

Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds in a comfortable stretch – ie, not to pain, and remember to keep breathing while you are stretching. This will allow you to relax into the stretch and improve the tissue tension and tightness and allow for a release!

• Move!

Avoid being in the same position for more than 45 minutes. It is best to get up and down throughout the day. Take the stairs if you can, stand up and walk around while on the phone, get up to get water every hour (which means you’ll also need to use the restroom more too!). We weren’t designed to be sedentary so don’t let a desk bound job keep you that way!

• Exercise!

Gentle walking

  • Swimming, Hydrotherapy or even walking in the water – Any non- weight bearing activity in a pool, can help alleviate joint pain and muscle tightness, as well as help with aerobic fitness.
  • These help with muscle tone, strength, stability,

• Posture and Desk Ergonomics and Optimisation

Know how to improve it and create a more optimal postural awareness for your body.

  • Use a lumbar support
  • Use a foot stool
  • Have the computer screen at the appropriate height
  • Alternate with a standing desk and being seated
  • Have the correct desk chair
  • Have an ergonomic assessment by a qualified practitioner to help improve your desk set up and work station comfort

• Supplements

to help support your musculoskeletal system include:

  • Magnesium for muscle tightness, cramping and spasm
  • Fish Oil for anti-inflammatory effects
  • Turmeric for anti-inflammatory effects

• Use Heat or Ice pack

• Use a Spiky Ball or Tennis Ball and Foam Roller in muscles that are tight

The more you are aware of your body and movement that it allows you, the more empowered and in control you will feel with understanding what you can accomplish, both in activity, movements, and pain avoidance.

Categories: Common Conditions, General Information, Pain Relief