What are Intervertebral Discs and What do They do? – Anil Kesani MD
Dr. Anil Kesani explains that the spine consists of several vertebrae aligned on top of one another to create the spinal column. Between each of these vertebrae is an intervertebral disc. Dr. Kesani is a spine doctor that practices as an orthopedic and spine surgeon at SpineMD in North Richland Hills, Texas. Possessing upwards of a decade of medical experience, Anil Kumar Kesani, MD, has been a part of numerous research projects and publications, including one that examined how intervertebral disc cells were affected by nicotine.
Intervertebral discs serve as shock absorbers and protect the vertebrae within the spinal column from becoming impacted as a result of activity. At the same time, they enable the spine to extend and flex so that it can move normally. These discs also protect the nerves running down the middle of the spinal column from damage.
There are 24 intervertebral discs in the human body, all of which normally consist of an inner and outer layer of fibrocartilaginous material. The inner layer is soft and made of mucoprotein gel, a substance that resembles jelly. Known as the nucleus pulposus, this soft, inner layer is protected by the disc’s outer layer, called the annulus fibrosus. When pressure is put on the spine, the hard annulus fibrosus takes the pressure and pushes the nucleus pulposus around to absorb the pressure.
Unfortunately, both layers are affected by a person’s age. Moisture is lost in the nucleus pulposus over time, just as strength is lost in the annulus fibrosus. This results in deterioration of the intervertebral discs, and may cause chronic back pain. This is what is commonly referred to as disc degeneration and results in discogenic back pain.
If on the other hand the annulus fibrosus or outer layer degenerates and gets weak it can lead to disc herniation resulting in pinched nerves. Slipped discs or disc herniation can lead to a combination of low back pain and radiating leg pain.