In an online interview with Bill Morgan, President of Parker University, world-renowned spine researcher and scientist, Stuart McGill, uses dynamic disc models from Dynamic Disc Designs to explain lumbar disc herniations, extrusions, and the mechanisms for lumbar disc injuries and treatments.
When treating spinal injuries, McGill stresses the importance of recognizing that the cause of most disc extrusions and herniations is a combination of factors, occurring over time. The cumulative array of factors may present as an acute condition causing pain, but in most cases, the disruption has not been created by a single loading event.
McGill uses the analogy of cloth to explain how repetitive loading and movement fray the collagen fibers that cover the socket joints, eventually working a hole into the fibers by repetitive stress strains occurring in a back and forth motion.
“The disc is layer upon layer of collagen fibers held together with [a tightly woven lamination matrix]. If you keep moving the disc under load, the hydraulic pressure of the pressurized nucleus slowly starts to work its way through the delamination that forms because of the movement,” he says.
He explains that when the collagen is intact and supple, a person has full range-of-motion without danger of creating tears, but when the spine is stiff and has become adapted to bearing heavy loads, it is in danger of injury.
“The problem comes when you combine the two worlds and confuse the adaptation process,” he says.
“In a modern lifestyle, you might have a person who sits at a computer for eight or more hours in a flexion stressed position which—on its own—may not be that bad. But then they go to the gym for an hour every night and start lifting loads. They’re taking their spine through the range of motion, so cumulatively, the collagen is asked to move, but it’s also pressurized. The nucleus behind gets pressurized and slowly works its way through the delaminated collagen.”
Recreating Compression Loading, Disc Bulge, and Proper Thrust Line with our Dynamic Model
Using the disc model, McGill demonstrates how the gel inside the disc remains pressurized under compression, but in cases where the collagen has become delaminated, bending the spine under a load creates a disc bulge.
“This is exactly what we see on dynamic MRI,” he says, manipulating the disc model to demonstrate. “In the laboratory we would inject the nucleus with various radio-opaque markers. We would watch the migration as the bulge would come through. Touch a nerve root and now you would match where the disc bulges with the precise anatomic pathway. If you sit for 20 minutes slouched and your right toe goes on fire, we know it’s the right ring and that’s exactly where the disk bulge is.”
McGill stacks the disc model into a thrust line and squeezes the spine segment to show how proper alignment adapts the movement experience.
“The whole disc is experiencing movement, but there’s no pressure, and nothing comes out to touch the nerve root,” he says.
Empowering the Patient with Simple Posture and Stress Exercise
McGill says his insight is based upon years of experiments studying the exact mechanisms of spinal injury and pain. He recommends using improved posture and stress—lying on the stomach for five minutes with two fists under their chin—to help,” mitigate the dynamics of that very dynamic disc bulge.”
He says the immediate relief provided by this simple exercise can empower a patient with discogenic pain and help alleviate the potential psychological trauma of feeling hopeless at not understanding the source of, or how to mitigate, pain.