Hydration and Disc Health
The human intervertebral disc is a very important structure for the integrity of the spine. In children under the age of about 4 years old, the inner disc material (nucleus) actively undergoes cell replication and “grows”. After age 4 the disc material changes to cells that produce collagen. This collagen cells are what make up the largest component of the discs and although they are not very strong, they can withstand tremendous amounts of pressure due to water content.
When the disc is well hydrated, it moves much more freely and is able to hold up to loads that are required by normal activities of daily living as well as stresses that may be generated under sudden events such as trauma. A healthy disc can often withstand forces of several hundred Newtons. However, if the disc becomes dehydrated, the fibers around the perimeter can become inflexible and weakened. These weakened outer fibers (annulus) can then tear, creating fissures that enable blood and other foreign material to infiltrate the disc. The disc then “sprouts” pain nerve ending and can be a major source of radiating, chronic pain.
Normal aging can reduce the quality and quantity of the protective cells in the disc. This is largely a result of genetic and environmental factors and stopping the process is not necessarily up to the person. There is something that we can control, however, in the maintenance of good healthy discs, and thus better mobility and less pain. That factor is our hydration. Not only is water a crucial element for weight control, skin health and proper digestive function, water consumption plays a major role in long-term disc health.
A good starting point is ½ of body weight in ounces per day. For example, a 180 pound person should drink about 90 ounces per day! This may seem like a large amount to some; however, it will give tremendous benefit to overall health and can improve the function of many tissues, including the discs of the spine. The key is to start slowly, drink most of the water early in the day to prevent nighttime trips to the bathroom and remember that if you are outside in the sun, exercising, or in drier climates the needs for your body can increase to more than 100% of body weight in ounces per day.
The water you choose should be clean, clear (no additives) and should consist of the bulk of the fluids that you consume every day. Drinking coffee, tea or any other diuretics will necessitate drinking even more to make up the difference. Happy Drinking!
Dr. Jason W. Haas