Hydration is a very simple aspect of spinal health which is commonly overlooked. In fact, my New Year’s wellness goal for 2020 is to drink more water each day in order to stay hydrated. It is recommended that we drink 8-eight ounce glasses of water a day. This basic wellness component can make a big difference in avoiding spinal conditions.
Because the discs in our spine are made up of 88% water, it is important to continuously rehydrate this critical structure in order to provide adequate cushion in our spine which lowers the risk of back pain and developing a more serious spinal condition. These discs allow our spinal column to resist compression and acts as our shock absorber as we do our normal everyday activity such as walking, running, and sitting. The disc is made up of the nucleus pulposus which is primarily made up of water and provides compressive strength and outer ring of annulus fibrosus that provides the tensile strength. The disc obtains its nutrients through a constant loss and gain of fluid. Dehydration upsets this balance and does not allow proper nutrients to the disc leading to increased risk of injury and degeneration.
When our body cannot replenish the proper amount of water in the discs they remain compressed, decreasing the normal flexibility and ability for them to absorb stresses that they are seeing. This decreased mobility increases the risk of injury to the collagen fibers that make up the disc material. Injury to the discs can cause inflammation and herniation of disc material causing compression of the neural elements.
The muscles and tendons that support our spinal column and allow us to sit and stand upright and do virtually everything that we do are also critically dependent on proper hydration. Decreased flexibility in the muscles that surround our spinal column also increase the risk of injury to the spinal elements including the discs, facet joints, and facet capsules that can start the degenerative cascade.
The cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds our brain and our spinal cord and nerves is also dependent on proper hydration. Decreased hydration will decrease the production of this fluid and cause cognitive dysfunction including headaches.
If your pain does progress to where a surgical procedure is necessary, hydration continues to play an important role for your health. As our patients are getting ready for surgery we tell them to continue with the recommended amount of water leading up to your surgery (8-eight ounce glasses each day), as well as avoid high calorie drinks and alcohol. By following these two instructions it will help improve blood flow, which is needed for better IV access and healing of tissues. Being hydrated leading into surgery also helps to reduce postoperative nausea and vomiting.