Disc Mechanics

Correct biomechanics of the intervertebral disc is at the foundation of the Gonstead Technique. The curves in your spine act as a spring or shock absorbers that resist gravity. They also protect and reduce forces acting on the spinal cord and nerves exiting the spine. Proper curves are dependent on the health of your intervertebral discs. Unfortunately, gravity, poor posture, improper physical activity, injury, and disease can all play a role in the misalignment of your spinal joints and, as a result, affecting the entire structure of your body.

The spinal cord is an extension of the brain. Delicate nerves flow down the spine and out little holes called the intervertebral foramina (IVF). Each IVF is formed by the bone above and bone below spaced by the intervertebral disc. These nerves connect to each and every muscle, organ, gland, and tissue of the body. Since the nerves pass through the IVF, it is essential the hole remains as large as possible. Two things that determine IVF size are proper alignment of the vertebrae and the height of the disc.

The disc’s primary function is to be a nerve spacer. It needs to be as thick as possible and normally makes up about 1/3 of the hole where the nerve root exits the spine. The way it says thick is through a hydraulic “pumping” mechanism called imbibition. Since the disc itself has a very poor blood supply, it relies on this “pumping” to get nutrients and stay hydrated. Imbibition works best if the joints are in alignment.

The intervertebral disc contains the nucleus pulposus. The nucleus acts as a ball-bearing. It allows healthy joint motion of the vertebra above the disc. Misalignment creates a smaller hole, which interferes with healthy nerve function.

Normally, the bone above is prevented from misaligning forward by the facet joint involving the bone below; however, only ligaments protect the bones from misaligning backward. Misaligning backward is called retrolisthesis and results in nerve pressure and poor movement patters. Imbibition is disrupted nerve dysfunction is evident. We call this condition vertebral subluxation.

Under enough trauma or repeated stress, the ligaments become stretched and the discs break down, which make the IVF smaller. The disc is very strong in a non-degenerated state; however, repeated twisting and bending can create micro-tears and weaken it. This soft tissue damage leads to swelling and irritates the nearby delicate nerves. Over time if the disc is not properly aligned, it will degenerate and make the IVF smaller.

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