By Dov Michaeli
First posted 8/8/11 on The Doctor Weighs In
For people of a certain age low back pain is a fact of daily life. Why, of all people, should our venerable seniors suffer from this affliction? The short answer is disk degeneration. The longer answer requires a longer explanation. So bear with me and I’ll walk you through it.
The intervertebral disk
This structure is a marvel of engineering. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not implying that an all knowing intelligent engineer designed it. What is marvelous about it is that an evolutionary process of trial and error lasting many millions years made us, and all vertebrates, well…vertebrates. And probably as important, it allowed us to walk upright, although we had to pay a penalty for the privilege. More on that later.
The center of the disk, called nucleus pulposus, is made up of cartilage material, which has the consistency of a gel; imagine a water-filled sponge. If you apply pressure on the sponge from above, what would keep the water from running off to the sides?