Your discs are so low on the food chain that God didn’t even give them a blood supply. There are no blood vessels to bring food, water, and oxygen to your discs?! What kind of crazy system is that? You could think of your discs as the bodily equivalent of the beggars on the freeway off-ramp. The discs are sitting next to the bones of the spine holding up a cardboard sign saying “will work for glucose, oxygen, and water” as blood circulates freely through the neighboring bones ignoring the bum disc as the blood cell makes a left turn on the arterial freeway. The analogy breaks down when we realize that unlike the beggar, the disc has an important job to do. It has to support the weight of your spine. Every time you move it has to twist and bend. And it has lots of little babies to feed in the name of chondrocytes, chondroblasts, and chondroclasts, the millions of cells that make up the disc. It needs food, water and oxygen, and lots of it. And that leads to three questions. One, what happens when it doesn’t get enough handouts? Two, how does it get handouts in the first place? And three, what can I do about it?
When your discs don’t get enough food, water, and oxygen they dehydrate and then they degenerate. They develop cracks and fissures. They tear. They rip open. When that happens the center of the disc, a glob of jelly called the nucleus, seeps, leaks or gushes out, bulging, herniating, prolapsing, sequestering. Not good stuff.
The way your discs get enough food, water, and oxygen is through imbibition. There is a built-in pump that when your spine moves the discs are squeezed this way and that, literally pumping nutrients from the body of the vertebra above and below the disc into the disc itself, where the hungry cells eat it up, make new cells, make new jelly, and stay healthy to keep that jelly right where it needs to be, in the center of the disc absorbing and distributing the weight of the body.
If you have ever used a hand water pump, the handle has to be pumped all the way up and then all the way down, over and over to get the water flowing from the depths of the well, up the pipe, and into your bucket. And so to do your discs need to be moved forward and backward, left and right, from one end to the other, over and over, to pump all that they need from those cells higher on the food chain to the bottom dweller. And so that is why I use the two tools of my trade, the adjustments to restore motion to the joints, and my exercises/stretches to pump the discs. And until some new stem cell therapy comes along to get cartilage to regrow, these two tools are quite literally the only hope beyond just general exercise, to preserve your begging discs. Discs that you will want and need for your entire life, but that you will only appreciate once you lose one or two. I hope it doesn’t come to that.