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Fascination intervertebral disc: three questions about the natural buffers in the back
Between each of the 24 vertebral bodies in the human back lies a mixture of gelatinous and bone-like tissue: the intervertebral disc. Each of these small natural “pillows” in the back consists of a water-containing core, which is tightly enclosed by a cartilaginous fiber ring. The purpose of the intervertebral discs, what endangers them and how they can be protected is answered below by the neurosurgeon and head of the Fulda | Main | Kinzig Dr. Spinal Center. Bernd Hölper.
What are they for?
In addition to their obvious function as a link between the individual vertebrae, the intervertebral discs perform two other main tasks. In this way, they allow people to bend and twist their torso and the spine does not remain stiff in one position. At the same time, they absorb shocks and distribute pressure loads that arise, for example, when sitting in the hollow back. Individual vertebrae press increasingly on the lower part of the back. However, this pressure increases by about a quarter as people lean forward. Such long-term, one-sided strains have serious long-term consequences for back health.
What endangers them?
Intervertebral discs absorb their nutrients through the fluid exchange with the surrounding vertebral bodies. By pulling apart and squeezing, the natural buffers soak up like a sponge and squeeze out cell debris. Since regular exercise stimulates this vital process, the nutrient supply dries up when sitting and lying predominantly. As a result, the volume of the intervertebral disc decreases and it becomes stunted. Previously fixed by the gelatinous pillows, individual vertebral bodies lose their hold over time and the spine becomes increasingly unstable.
In order to counteract the dangerous process, the body automatically begins to build up new bone. At first glance, this spinal column makes the spine more robust, but as a result the gaps narrow. This means that the intervertebral discs no longer have the necessary space and press on the nerve strands behind them. This in turn results in severe pain.
How can it be protected?
Regular movement provides the intervertebral discs with nutrients. If there is not enough time, even small things like a walk during lunch break or changing your seating position often help. An individually adapted workplace and the correct sleeping position also contribute to a back-friendly everyday life. High pillows, for example, push the cervical spine upwards, which often causes neck tension. However, if there are problems with the intervertebral discs, conservative measures are recommended first. This includes strengthening therapy, pain relievers or intradiscal distractions, or IDD for short. With this method, experts fit the patient on a kind of bench that creates a negative pressure inside the intervertebral discs through slight pulling movements. In this way, they absorb surrounding nutrients and liquids and regain volume. If this does not achieve the desired effect, specialists often resort to so-called microtherapy.
With these gentle procedures, doctors use tiny instruments and quickly alleviate the pain. As a preventative measure, patients should make their everyday lives more active. These include back-friendly sports such as swimming and a frequent change of seating position in everyday office life. (sb, pm)