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Disc - definition

'Intervertebral Disc' or 'Disc'

The spine is made up of a number of different structures. These include bones, ligaments and intervertebral discs. All componets work in harmony to provide the combination of strength and flexibility required to function.

The intervertebral discs are essentially water beds, separating each segment (known as a vertebra) of the spine. They are held in place by ligaments. They are important for allowing movement. At each individual level there is very little natural movement, but the combination of lots of moving parts, means overall the spine is capable of being very flexible but also strong.

What is the relevance to CSM?

As we get older the intervertebral discs age; in very simple terms they dry out, become less flexible and distribute the forces in the back less efficiently.

The speed of the aging process varies from person to person and at different levels of the spine. If you look at the MRI picture, you can see the discs at the top are whiter and more clearly defined [healthier] than the lower discs, which are darker and compressed.

As the discs age, they become more likely to slip [also known as herniation or prolapse]. If the disc moves backwards it can reduce the width of the spinal canal and compress the spinal cord causing CSM. This process can be gradual or sudden

Side on view of the bottom [lumbar] of the spine. The discs at the top are healthier [well shaped and white] compared to the bottom [dark and compressed]
Diagram of a side on view of the spine, indicating the arrangement of the many structures

Case courtesy of Dr G Balachandran, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 5222