Words Matter: The disc is not a disc.

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It can seem like splitting hairs when we talk about the way words are used to represent ideas–and yet they matter.  

 

I remember when I was learning Spanish, how I was intrigued to learn that the same verb, esperar is used to express the idea of waiting as well as the concept of hoping.  So, if I’m sitting in the park, anticipating my friend’s arrival, am I waiting, or hoping?

 

There’s all this language around vertebral (spinal) discs, and some of it relies on the mental image that it is in fact something like a frisbee between the vertebrae.  For instance, people sometimes talk about a slipped disc. What is that?! Discs can’t slip. They can’t slip because they’re not actually discs.

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There’s all this language around vertebral (spinal) discs, and some of it relies on the mental image that it is in fact something like a frisbee between the vertebrae.  For instance, people sometimes talk about a slipped disc. What is that?! Discs can’t slip. They can’t slip because they’re not actually discs.

 

David Butler, an Australian pain scientist, suggests relabeling the object formerly known as the disc as the Living Adaptable Force Transducer, or the LAFT.  (Which sets us up for a whole slew of nerdy physiology jokes about the last LAFT.) It’s a little harder to talk about your force transducer, or even your LAFT, slipping.

 

So, if it isn’t a rubbery, flattened gumdrop between vertebrae…what is it?

 

Have you ever seen a Chinese finger puzzle?  I hope so, because that’s my best analogy for the structure formerly known as the disc.  There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Data was stuck in one for awhile.  

 

A finger puzzle has fibers that run obliquely in both directions, and it does a really good job of holding your fingers together.  Discs–LAFTs–are a lot like those finger puzzles, just a lot wider and shorter–and with some pulp in the middle for cushioning, and goodness knows what else.

 

My main point in talking about this, (outside of the very important idea that the words we use, and the labels we use, affect our brains and our whole way of experiencing the world around us) is that the spinal “disc” is very stationary, very tough and very strong.

 

In one study I recall some vertebrae were loaded with an increasingly huge amount of weight until parts of the bone finally fractured.  The LAFTs were fine.

 

If we’re not aware of how strong our spine is, and if we’re fearful of damaging a structure we believe is delicate, that will change how we live our lives.

 

That’s really why I’m saying this, the way we think about our spine affects our experience of it.  And the way we experience our spine affects our whole life. Every movement decision we make on a daily basis is influenced by an underlying belief, in either our own durability or our fragility.

 

If we believe that our bodies are fragile and easily broken, not only will that keep us from juicy, bold, vital, dynamic, expressive movement, but it will make us stiff, tense and weak.

 

So, let’s replace the word “disc” with the image of something unbreakable…and work outward from there.

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