Why your spine needs water

Water and Your SpineThe next time you feel the need for water, think about this: if you only choose to drink once you’re already thirsty, you may already be slightly dehydrated.

What’s worse — when you choose beverages such as soda and coffee to quench your thirst throughout the day, they can actually contribute to the dehydration of your entire body. While water keeps all of the tissues in the body and spine flexible, not drinking enough of it can increase your risk of health problems, chronic back pain and degenerative spinal conditions as you get older.

“Systemic, chronic dehydration may very well be indirectly tied to degenerative changes in the spine,” said Jeffrey Langmaid, D.C., a Chiropractor and Consult Physician at Laser Spine Institute. “What we look for when we see a degenerative disc on an MRI is essentially a dehydrated disc.”

Your spinal discs — the cushions between your vertebrae that act as shock absorbers — are comprised of two main parts: the nucleus pulposus (inner core) and the annulus fibrosus (outer wall). For an easy analogy, remember a jelly doughnut: think of the annulus as the doughnut on the outside; think of the nucleus as the liquid jelly on the inside.

“The material inside the disc is predominately made of water, which acts as the bearing by which motion occurs,” said Dr. Langmaid. “The nucleus is built to bear the brunt of the load.”

By day, your discs lose water due to everyday motion under the pressure of gravity. By night, your body rehydrates by reabsorbing water into the disc spaces. But what happens to your spine when you don’t drink enough water?

“When there is a degenerative disc, it means that disc is not as hydrated or flexible — forcing the other spinal components to compensate for the disc’s lack of motion and fluid mobility,” said Dr. Langmaid. “This will place extra stress and strain on the other parts of the spine and accelerate the degenerative process because each part is meant to do one specific job, not the job of its neighbor.”

The trick is to drink water throughout the day instead of waiting until you feel thirsty. A good rule is to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water daily.

If you’re not used to drinking this much water and feel overwhelmed about making the change, Dr. Langmaid recommends adding at least one cup to your routine until you work your way up to your hydration goals.

“Over the course of time, it starts to make an impact,” said Dr. Langmaid. “You can also use tools to remind you to drink water, like fitness-minded technology or your favorite water bottle to help track the number of ounces you’re drinking.”

The next time you’re thinking about drinking a glass of water, do it for your discs. If you’ve been diagnosed with a degenerative spine condition, contact our Care Team for your no-cost MRI review.*


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