Disc Dehydration

Facts About Disc Dehydration

Although it might not be as common of a phrase as disc bulge or slipped disc, disk dehydration is a very real condition that many people suffer from. It can also lead to other more serious conditions, as well as cause pain for the individual. So what is disc dehydration and what causes it?

At birth, the disc is made up of about 80% water. This lets the disc act as a shock absorber and also makes it spongy. Our bodies need the shock absorption because if we didn’t have it then when we moved around and our discs moved with us, they would rub up against one another.

As we get older, however, the water in the discs gradually decreases, making them less effective at their shock-absorbing capabilities. When a disc is dehydrated, it contains only a small amount of water. Sometimes, this condition is also referred to as “dark disc disease” due to the fact that a disc that is not properly hydrated will show up as bring dark in color on a MRI scan of the spine.

Tiny molecules called proteoglycan aggrecans keep the water within the discs. They are actually able to hold over 500 times their weight in water which helps give the healthy disc the pressure that it needs to bear body weight. The disc cells produce the proteoglycan aggrecan molecules as long as the discs have oxygen, food, and amino acids for building materials.

During the day, a disc will usually lose some fluid when you are active. However, at night the disc is able to absorb fluid and replenish itself, an act referred to as intradiscal fluid exchange. This is just one of the many reasons why getting a good night’s sleep is important to your overall health. An injured disc, though, might actually lose more fluid than it can absorb. This leads to disc dehydration. A dehydrated disc can herniated, bulge, and even become diseased.  

Even though disc dehydration is not usually a cause of lower back pain, a hydrated disc is still important in order to have a healthy spine. A person’s body weight is supported by 24 vertebrae and 23 discs along the spine. The discs hold water which let them support this body weight. When a disc loses water content and becomes dehydrated, it is not as effective at supporting the body weight as it needs to be.

Because a dehydrated disc is not as stable as a well-hydrated disc, it can begin to shift and eventually press down on the sciatic nerve. This will usually cause pain. Sciatic pain is a serious condition and can lead to an intense pain that can also be felt down one or both legs. Back pain can also develop. If discs become dehydrated then they can also become more susceptible to fissures and cracks. This can result in slipped discs, too. 

Not everyone will experience pain, however. Some people simply have nerve endings that penetrate deeper than others which can make the damaged disc more painful. In others, it is oftentimes not known why pain is not felt, or why it is.

Most of the time, the symptoms of disc dehydration can be treated without resorting to surgery. Common treatment options include pain medications, physical therapy, steroid injections, and exercise. Keeping the body hydrated by drinking plenty of water is not only good for keeping your discs hydrated, but for keeping the rest of your organs functioning properly as well. Still, surgery might be necessary if the disc bulge or disc protrusion does not get better with physiotherapy.