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What in the spine is breaking down? Renowned spine expert, Vert Mooney, M.D., stated that up to 85% of all low back pain stems from the discs drying out and breaking down. Discs are the water filled ‘spongy’ spacers that keep the vertebrae from jamming together and pinching the nerves that control the function of our legs.
How do discs survive? Like all living tissue, discs need water and nutrients to regenerate and stay healthy. Unlike other living tissue, the vast majority of blood vessels going to the discs die off by age 3, leaving the discs to survive on the meager amount of water and nutrients that slowly seeps into the discs. Without the water and nutrients our discs would quickly die.
How does water get into the discs? During our daily activities water is squeezed out of the ‘spongy’ discs, causing each low back disc to lose approximately 20% of its water volume and shrink 1 mm in height by the end of the day. Then it takes about 8 hours of lying down for the water and nutrients to very slowly seep back into the discs and reclaim the 1mm in height - this is why we are slightly taller in the morning than at night.
Why are discs breaking down? Simply put our excessive sitting and weight gain is squeezing more water out of the spongy low back discs during the day than can seep into the discs during 8 hours of sleep. World-renowned spine expert, William Kirkaldy-Willis, M.D., tells us that excessive sitting causes accelerated disc dehydration and allows harmful acid to build up in the disc(s). The acid, in turn, begins breaking down the vital disc wall and because there are no nerves in the center of the disc one commonly has few symptoms until there is significant disc destruction.
What causes the pain? Significant back pain commonly occurs when: the vertebrae begin to jam into each other; the nerve is pinched; the acid weakened disc wall tears, allowing the inside of the disc to protrude out; and/or harmful acid leaks out onto the surrounding nerves. Dr. Mooney explains that the only way to improve disc nutrition and flush out the painful acid is by rehydrating the discs, and the quicker the fluid is cycled the sooner pain will moderate.
How can I improve disc hydration? Exercise is very important for the spine. However, award winning spine researchers from Oxford University have proven that exercise does not move an appreciable amount of water into the center of the discs where most of the degeneration occurs. The good news is, as reported in the prestigious journal SPINE, stretching the lower back with a pull equal to 25% of one’s body weight for 15 minutes caused each of the lower back discs to increase in height by 1 mm – yes, the same amount of disc height increase in 15 minutes as lying down for 8 hours.
Can stretching the spine really help me? ‘Neurosurgeon of the year’ Charles Burton stated that it comes as a revelation to most people that the low back discs commonly begin drying out and breaking down early in life and YOU CAN help rehydrate your discs. On his website, Dr. Burton states: “To intermittently expand (distract) the spine allows for better trans-endplate diffusion and convection of nutrients, reverses the degenerative process and also begins to reverse disc protrusion as well as providing a reversal of the process of lateral foraminal stenosis and progressive scoliosis.”
Are we sure Dr. Burton is right? Jill P. Urban Ph.D. and Sally Roberts, Ph.D., are two of the World’s top spine researchers. They state that the chemical abnormalities within the disc are due, in large part, to poor nutrient supply, which, in turn, frequently initiates disc degeneration in our early teens. Most importantly, degenerated discs retain the ability to synthesize new disc material (proteoglycan) when nutrient supply is restored.
Is there hope for my back? As you see, increasing the flow of water and nutrients into the dehydrated disc(s) begins to flush out the painful acid and allows the influx of nutrients to begin healing the injured disc(s). Backed by 20 years of research, Dr. Burton showed us that frequently stretching the lower back over time with a pull of approximately 25% of one’s body weight provided the following wonderful effects; 70% of the patients slated for back surgery were able to avoid surgery; 85% of the non-surgical patients reported feeling ‘good to excellent.’
How do we know how much pull Spinal Stretch provides? As a professor at U.C.L.A. medical school, Tom Storer, Ph.D. determined that when using Spinal Stretch without the chest belt you will begin to slide towards the door when the pull reaches approximately 30% of your total bodyweight. With the chest belt you begin sliding towards the door when the pull reaches approximately 40% of your total body weight. Dr. Burton has endorsed Spinal Stretch because it provides the amount of pull shown to be very effective in his research. Remember, it must be used often and over time.
In 2002, World-renowned spine expert Norbert Bose, M.D., received the prestigious Volvo Award for proving that insufficient water and nutrients causes most discs to begin drying out and breaking down in our early teens.
Neurosurgeons Paul Kim and Charles Branch, both professors of neurosurgery, reported the following information before the Congress of Neurological Surgeons in October 2005. The ultimate goal of management of lumbar degenerative disc disease is to maintain good disc hydration, with the belief that maintenance of restoration of disc health will be accompanied by symptom reduction and prolonged function of the lumbar motion segment. We must embrace the concept of the disc as a complex biological system, and we must participate in the prevention and treatment at the cellular level.
Alan Otterstein, M.D., a neurologist and past president of the Neurological Association of New Jersey, reported that the goal of spinal decompression is to reduce pressure in the injured / degenerated disc to improve the diffusion of oxygen, nutrients, and speed healing. Dr. Otterstein revealed MRIs showing the disc space after traction becoming wider and whiter – clear signs traction helps rehydrate the discs.
Jacek Cholewicki, Ph.D., a professor at the Department of Orthopedic and Rehabilitation, Yale University School of Medicine, won the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine Bioengineering Research Award for 2005. After conducting a study on lumbar traction in 2007, Dr. Cholewicki concluded that the significant changes in trunk flexibility point toward fluid exchange as the key biomechanical effects of spinal traction. These changes after traction, states Dr. Cholewicki, are similar to those found in the spine after sleeping all night and are considered an important mechanism for nutrient transport to the intervertebral discs.
Dennis McClure, M.D., a neurosurgeon, writes that spinal decompression creates negative pressure in the disc, which leads to the diffusion of fluid and nutrients into the disc to stimulate its metabolism and promote hydration and healing.
Allen Dyer, M.D., Ph.D., the former Deputy of Minister of Health of Ontario, Canada, states that decompressing the disc facilitates migration and equilibration of oxygen throughout the disc and promotes tissue repair.
The Orthopedic Center at the University of California at San Francisco states: “Back pain alone is costing the American economy $80 billion to $100 billion per year. In fact, it is the second most frequent reason patients consult a physician, and the growth rate of disability back pain is rising 14 times faster than the population growth rate.”
Please understand that although Americans are spending as much on back pain as cancer and heart disease, back pain is now the #1 cause of disability for those under age 45 and new research shows that it is getting worse by the day. I sincerely hope that these world class spine experts can inspire you to take an active role in treating your back pain and, in the words of ‘neurosurgeon of the year’ Dr. Burton, begin to reverse the degenerative process.