Disc Degeneration, Herniation and Arthritis Explained

Disc Degeneration, Herniation and Arthritis Explained - Featured Image

Dr. Jack Zigler, MD explains what a spinal disc is and its functions as follows:


The intervertebral disc has several important functions, including functioning as a spacer, a shock absorber, and a motion unit:


  • Spacer: The height of the disc maintains the separation distance between the adjacent boney vertebral bodies. This allows biomechanics of motion to occur, with the cumulative effect of each spinal segment yielding the total range of motion of the spine in any of several directions. Proper spacing is also important because it allows the intervertebral foramen to maintain its height, which allows the segmental nerve roots room to exit each spinal level without compression (e.g. a pinched nerve).
  • Shock absorber: Shock absorption allows the spine to compress and rebound when the spine is axially loaded during such activities as jumping and running. Importantly, it also resists the downward pull of gravity on the head and trunk during prolonged sitting and standing.
  • Motion unit: The elasticity of the disc allows motion coupling, so that the spinal segment may flex, rotate, and bend to the side all at the same time during a particular activity. This would be impossible if each spinal segment were locked into a single axis of motion.


One common condition that we see folk come into our office with is disc degeneration. The lower cervical spine (lower neck) and the lower lumbar spine (lower back) are the most prevalent places to see this. 


For many individuals, disc degeneration can eventually lead to chronic pain in the surrounding areas.  On top of that, disc degeneration can be the primary cause of sciatica, numbness, burning and tingling problems in the legs, feet and toes.  Disc degeneration also causes pain that radiates into the upper shoulder, arms and hands/fingers.


Something most people don’t seem to understand is what CAUSES discs to degenerate.  Often times I hear people tell me that they have degenerating discs in their spines because their parents had degenerating discs and arthritis in their spines. 


Research shows that this is not the case. There is a medical law called Wolf’s Law that explains exactly how and why we develop degenerative conditions in the spine and other joints. Wolf’s Law states that in order for a joint to degenerate, there needs to be abnormal physical stresses on that joint. 


In the spine, an abnormal positioning of the individual vertebrae, a condition known as subluxation, is the primary cause of this pressure and the subsequent degeneration. For someone to develop arthritis in the spine, the spine must subluxate first. Over time, if the abnormal alignment is not addressed the spinal bones and the discs between them will break down and become “arthritic”. 


Chiropractors entire focus is to examine the spine to find subluxated vertebrae and correct the alignment. By doing this, a person will see health benefits, and they will also avoid long term negative effects such as disc degeneration and spinal arthritis.


This is why it is so important to have every member of your family, no matter what age, checked for subluxation. The earlier it is detected the better the prognosis will be for that person’s future health.