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Everything You need To Know About Intervertebral Discs - Anatomy, Function, and Common Conditions - Spine Center of Texas
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Everything You need To Know About Intervertebral Discs – Anatomy, Function, and Common Conditions

Intervertebral Discs are positioned between each vertebra of the spinal column. A total of 24 discs are located in three regions (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar) of the spine. The top two cervical vertebrae have no disc separating them. The bottom two sections, the sacrum, and the coccyx do not need discs because of a natural fusion.

Each disc has two distinct parts: the annulus fibrosis and the nucleus pulposus. The annulus fibrosis is a tough, flexible material formed from concentric layers of collagen (connective tissue) that attach to the vertebrae at different angles. The nucleus pulposus is a soft gel-like substance enclosed within the annulus fibrosis. Both components contain water and collagen, with the nucleus pulposus having more water than the annulus fibrosis. As the human body ages, the water within the nucleus pulposus dissipates, decreasing the space between vertebrae and resulting in a loss of height.

 The function of an intervertebral disc is to connect the vertebrae together and provide a cushion between them to alleviate compression from impact, reduce friction, and protect the nerve tissue that running through the middle of each one throughout the spine. They also act as stabilizers to limit the motion of the individual vertebral segments.

Intervertebral discs are a frequent source of injury and decreased function because of the normal wear and tear on the spinal column. Three of the most common conditions are:

  • Degenerative disc disease is often the result of a general breakdown of the disk due to aging. When the discs dry out, they become more brittle and are more susceptible to small tears.
  • A puncture of the disk, resulting from a traumatic penetration injury.
  • A disc herniation which is when the nucleus pulposus pushes through a crack or tear in the annulus fibrosis. If the protrusion is extensive, it may decompress nerve tissue and cause painful rotation.

In many cases, the disc injury will heal with conservative care including pain medication, rest and activity modification, and therapeutic exercise. If these interventions fail to relieve the problem, surgical options such as discectomy with or without fusion may be necessary.

If you have a disc problem and would like to investigate our treatment options, please call our or San Antonio, Seguin or New Braunfels office.