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  • Writer's pictureChiropractic First

Spinal Discs: What they are and the importance of care

What are Spinal Discs?

We will try to keep these big words to a minimum, because what we really want to focus on is where these discs play a role in your spine, and how you need to keep them healthy.

Intervertebral discs (spinal discs) consist of an outer fibrous ring, the anulus fibrosus disci intervertebralis, which surrounds an inner gel-like center, also known as the nucleus pulposus. The anulus fibrosus (outer ring) consists of several layers (laminae) of fibrocartilage made up of both type I and type II collagen.


Type I is concentrated toward the edge of the ring, where it provides greater strength. The stiff laminae can withstand compressive forces. The fibrous intervertebral disc contains the nucleus pulposus and this helps to distribute pressure evenly across the disc. This prevents the development of stress concentrations which could cause damage to the underlying vertebrae or to their endplates. The nucleus pulposus contains loose fibers suspended in a mucoprotein gel. The nucleus of the disc acts as a shock absorber, absorbing the impact of the body's activities and keeping the two vertebrae separated. It is the remnant of the notochord.

Type II is the most abundant matrix molecule of cartilage and is essential for structural cartilage integrity.

There is one disc between each pair of vertebrae, except for the first cervical segment, the atlas. The atlas is a ring around the roughly cone-shaped extension of the axis (second cervical segment). The axis acts as a post around which the atlas can rotate, allowing the neck to swivel.

The Atlas shown below - this is where many patients experience headaches - the root cause of them. The atlas can easily misalign due to incorrect posture while sitting at a desk, or even sleeping on a pillow not properly formed for your neck.

There are 23 discs in the human spine (33 bones in all, called vertebrae): 6 in the neck (cervical) region, 12 in the middle back (thoracic) region, and 5 in the lower back (lumbar) region. Discs are named by the vertebral body above and below. For example, the disc between the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae is designated "C5-6".

Spinal Disc Space

The intervertebral disc space is typically defined on an X-ray photograph as the space between adjacent vertebrae. In healthy patients, this corresponds to the size of the intervertebral disc. The size of the space can be altered in pathological conditions such as discitis (infection of the intervertebral disc).


The discs throughout the spine have three primary functions:

  • They act as a shock absorbers in the spine, positioned between each bony vertebra.

  • They act as tough ligaments that hold the vertebrae of the spine together.

  • They are cartilaginous joints that allow for slight mobility in the spine.

Discs are actually composed of two parts: a tough outer portion and a soft inner core, and the configuration has been likened to that of a jelly doughnut.

  • Annulus Fibrosus. The outer portion of the disc (annulus fibrosus) is the tough circular exterior composed of concentric sheets of collagen fibers (lamellae) that surround the inner core.

  • Nucleus Pulposus. The inner core (nucleus pulposus) contains a loose network of fibers suspended in a mucoprotein gel.

At birth, approximately 80 percent of the disc is composed of water. In order for the disc to function properly, it must be well hydrated. The nucleus pulposus is the major carrier of the body's axial load and relies on its water-based contents to maintain strength and pliability.

Your spinal discs function as shock absorbers for your body keeping your vertebrae separate when your body jars from impact and activities.

When you experience problems with one or more of your discs, it can have quite a few negative impacts on your life with the following types of symptoms:

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Diminished quality of life

  • Impaired mobility

  • Inability to work

  • Muscle weakness

  • Pain

The precise symptoms you experience vary according to the specific types of disc problems you’re living with. Some spinal disc problems are caused by injuries, while others develop as a result of aging.

We will briefly list the common types of spinal disc problems and link our next article to explain them more in depth.

  • Herniated Disc Or Slipped Disc

  • Pinched Nerve

  • Bulging Disc

  • Sciatica

  • Spinal Stenosis

  • Degenerative Disc Disease

Dr. Davis has many years of experience treating patients in these areas of care. He recommends chiropractic as your first source of treatment over drugs and surgery.

How to Strengthen and Care for Your Spinal Discs

Some tips for taking care of your intervertebral discs include:

  • Improving your posture which may include exercising and changing positions frequently while at work.

  • Using good body mechanics when lifting heavy objects.

  • Sleeping on a firm, supportive mattress.

  • Quitting smoking (or don't start).

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.

  • Eating nutritiously.

  • Drinking a lot of water.

  • Drinking alcohol only moderately.

A strong core allows your body to have the support it needs to move, bend, and twist without causing injuries, and a flexible core is crucial to allowing the body to move well and through a full range of motion. Together, these physical qualities help you keep your spinal discs healthy, just like movement-based care such as the adjustments we provide.

  • Core exercises can help your back maintain a balance of strength and flexibility.

  • Movement of the spine promotes the delivery of nutrients to the spinal discs.

  • Spinal adjustments can improve your range of motion and help to decrease pain.

Movement not only from moving your body, but also getting monthly wellness adjustments helps your discs stay mobile and your spine healthier.

Call or click to set up an appointment with Dr. Davis today!

📞(712) 560-8913


Spine Health



Science Direct


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