Why are we more prone to disc bulges and herniations as we age? First, let's break down the differences between the two. Think of our disc as a jelly-filled donut; a hard, fibrous outside and a gel-like center that together helps with shock absorption and protects our spinal cord. When a disc bulge occurs, a small part of the outer fibrous disc bulges into the spinal cord/ spinal nerves but the nucleus pulposus (jelly) remains contained in the middle. When a disc herniates, the nucleus pulposus leaks through the initial bulge and into the spinal cord. This jelly-like center is not contained and has ruptured through the fibrous layer of the disc
As we age two things happen to our discs: 1. Discs dehydrate and lose their height and shape. Inactivity, smoking and alcohol all increase the chances of dehydration. 2. Discs weaken and lose their elasticity in the fibrous, outer layer causing the disc to lose its shape. Poor posture, obesity and muscle imbalances around the spine all increase the chances of this.
So how do we fix this? Although we cannot slow down Father (or Mother) Time, we can expedite the healing process. Discs have the ability to heal and reabsorb themselves. The severity of the injury dictates how long the recovery is. Conservative treatment is recommended (ie. Chiropractic care, Physical Therapy, Acupuncture, Yoga, etc.) to help increase blood flow and improve movement patterns and mechanics to the injured area in a controlled manner.