Discogenic is a descriptive term that refers to the intervertebral discs that cushion the vertebrae and contribute to the flexibility of the spine. With the exception of the two vertebrae at the top of the spine (the atlas and the axis) and the fused vertebrae at the bottom of the spine, there is one disc sandwiched between each pair of vertebral bodies. The discs are spongy and pliable, allowing for twisting, bending, extension and flexion while preventing the bony vertebrae from slipping out of line or grinding against one another. The intervertebral discs are not connected directly to the vascular system, and therefore must receive nutrients through cartilaginous end plates that anchor the discs in place.
Intervertebral discs consist of an outer wall and an inner nucleus. The structure of discs frequently is compared loosely to that of a jelly donut – round and firm but relatively elastic on the outside, fluid and pliable on the inside. Discs fit snugly between the bony vertebral bodies, which form the anterior (forward) base of the spinal column and serve as anchors for the various bony protrusions that form the posterior (rearward) vertebral arch and are attached to spinal muscles, tendons and ligaments. Here is a more detailed description of the two parts of an intervertebral disc:
- Annulus fibrosus – the outer wall of the disc; it consists of several strong, flexible layers of fibrocartilage
- Nucleus pulposus – the gel-like inner material of the disc; it has a high water content when healthy
Occasionally, the breakdown of intervertebral discs can cause nerve compression, which produces pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness. Conditions that can produce discogenic pain include:
- Degenerative disc disease – the gradual loss of water content in the nucleus; generally a part of the natural aging process
- Herniated disc – the extrusion of nucleus material through a tear or rupture of the outer disc wall
- Bulging disc – pressure from the nucleus forcing the disc wall out of its natural boundary
- Spondylolisthesis – slippage of one vertebra over another, sometimes caused by disc degeneration
Treatment for discogenic symptoms
Symptoms associated with discogenic disease or injury generally can be managed through the use of pain medication, physical therapy or other conservative methods. However, if chronic pain persists despite weeks or months of conservative treatment, a doctor may recommend surgery as an option. Rather than settle for highly invasive traditional open back surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how our orthopedic specialists can use advanced techniques to help you rediscover your life without back pain.