Synovial fluid lumbar discs
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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The spine is made up of 24 bones (vertebrae) that are stacked on top of each other to create the spinal column.
The intervertebral discs are flat, round "cushions" that act as shock absorbers between each vertebra in your spine. There is one disc between each vertebra. Each disc has a strong outer ring of fibers called the annulus, and a soft, jelly-like center called the nucleus pulposus.
The annulus is the disc's outer layer and the strongest area of the disc. It also helps keep the disc's center intact. The annulus is actually a strong ligament that connects each vertebra together.
The soft, pliable, nucleus of the disc serves as the main shock absorber. The nucleus is made up of tissue that is very moist because it has high water content. The water content helps the disc act like a shock absorber.
The spinal column also has joints called facet joints. The facets are the "bony knobs" that meet between each vertebra to form the facet joints that join the vertebrae together. There are two facet joints between each pair of vertebra, one on each side. They extend and overlap each other to form a joint between the neighboring vertebra facet joints. The facet joints allow flexibility in the spine.
The facet joints are synovial joints. A synovial joint is a structure that allows movement between two bones. Examples of other synovial joints would be the knee, elbow, shoulder, hip, etc. In a synovial joint, the ends of the bones are covered with a material called articular cartilage. This material is a slick spongy material that allows the bones to glide against one another without much friction.
Surrounding the facet joint is a watertight sack made of soft tissue and ligaments. This sack creates what is called the "joint capsule". The ligaments are soft tissue structures that hold the two sides of the facet joint together. The ligaments around the facet joint combine with the synovium to form the joint capsule that is filled with fluid (synovial fluid). This fluid lubricates the joint to decrease the friction, just like oil lubricates the moving parts of a machine.
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