Republished from July 9, 2013
Hydration is a subject most people know they need to improve, but did you know that it is also essential to be properly hydrated for spinal health? Hydration is important for our circulatory system, lymphatic system, excretory system, our skin, muscles, digestion, and brain. However, I want to help you understand why it is important for our spine in particular, our vertebral disc and nerves. Between every vertebra and spinal bone there is a soft cushion called a vertebral disc. You might have heard of this when people say they have a slipped or bulging disc. These discs serve several very important duties in the spine: they give structure and support, they connect bones together, they protect the spinal cord and nerves, and they allow for movement of the spine.
Protecting the spinal cord and nerves
In this article, I am going to focus on the duty of protecting the spinal cord and nerves. To understand this better, you need to know a little bit more about the anatomy of your spine and discs. You see, directly behind the vertebral bodies and disc (which are stacked on top of each other to make up the spine), is the spinal canal which houses the spinal column/cord. The spinal column/cord is the lifeline that sends energy/electricity from your brain, down the spinal cord, out the nerves at the level of every vertebra/disc, to all of your organs, tissues, and cells. This energy flow brings life to every part of your body. Without it, your brain and body would die (a very important area to protect, don’t you think?)
Between every bone, or vertebra in the spine, is a vertebral disc. This disc adds cushion and space between each bone so that nerves can exit out of little holes in the sides of the spine. These nerves go to every part of the body. so, if you have nice tall, healthy disc you will have holes where the nerves come out of the spine that are wide open and not closed off. On the contrary, if you have degenerating and thin discs you will have holes where the nerves come out that are narrow and closed off.
A few different types of things can occur that will obstruct the opening where the nerves exit that can potentially pinch down on the delicate nerve tissue. You can have a bulging disc, degenerative disc, subluxation, etc. (Other things like spinal stenosis, tumors, etc. can also occur.)
Most people have heard of a bulging disc, and to understand why a disc can bulge out onto the nerve, you need to understand the anatomy of the disc itself. Around the outside of the disc is cartilage. On the inside of the disc is fluid. A bulging disc is when the fluid from the inside of the disc pushes out and stretches the cartilage. When the outer cartilage is stretched, it can hit the nerve or the spinal cord. If this does happen, there are very specific things that can be done to help decrease the size of the bulge and take the pressure off of the nerve or spinal cord. This includes chiropractic adjustment, traction/decompression, hydration, or even surgery if it is bulging beyond repair.
To understand how a degenerative disc can pinch down on a nerve, you must know the disc provides space between each vertebra. This space provides maximum opening for the nerves to exit from the spinal cord to the rest of the body. As the disc degenerates and becomes smaller/thinner, so does the hole where the nerve comes out. As the hole gets smaller, the nerve becomes pinched. This is where proper hydration is so important….do you remember what the inside of the disc is made out of? Fluid! What would happen to that fluid if you were chronically dehydrated? The fluid in the disc would dehydrate as well, and the disc would get thinner and pinch on the nerve. If this happened and blocked the nerve energy/electricity going out to the body, how would you feel? Some would say pain and they would be partially right. The truth is that symptoms are a bad indicator of the health of your body. A great analogy of this is looking at the health of our teeth… it is common (not normal) for people to have crooked teeth and cavities in their teeth without symptoms. Have you ever gone to the dentist for a regular checkup and you felt fine, but they found cavities? It’s the same with your spine. The majority of the population actually has a bulging disc and degeneration without pain. This is why it is so important for everyone to have to have their spine checked. These things can be prevented and corrected just like cavities and crooked teeth.
How and why does a disc degenerate or bulge
Hydration is an important part in preventing degeneration, but the most common culprit is due to injuries. Injuries can be big or small. Some examples of big injuries are car accidents, sports injuries, slips and falls, birth process, etc. Small injuries can include the birth process, learning to walk, falling off of a bike or playground equipment, sitting for hours with poor posture, etc. Sitting with poor posture and all of these injuries are to your spine what sugar is to your teeth!
How often do you or your family members have these types of injuries? On a daily basis! If you or a family member has never had your spine checked and maintained your entire life, what are the chances that you could have something going on? Let me ask that another way, if you or a family member had never had your teeth checked and maintained your entire life, what are the chances that there is something going on?
All of these injuries can cause your spinal vertebra to become misaligned and locked up. (subluxated) Subluxations will cause alterations and degeneration of the disc tissue leading to bluges and thinning of the disc. This can happen at any age. The youngest I have seen degeneration in the spine is at age 14. I have also seen a 91 year or without any degeneration because her spine was subluxation free.
Answers and Hope
So what is the answer to all of this? Have your spine and your family members spines checked early and often by a corrective/wellness chiropractor throughout your entire life. Stay well hydrated, stretch and exercise, have good nutrition, focus on healthy thoughts! We all have stress and big and small injuries throughout our life that can subluxate or degenerate our spine, so just like you take care of your teeth; make sure you also take care of your spine!
Yours in Health and Wellness,
Denny Warren, DC, CCWP