While the term “discogenic syndrome” may sound intimidating, the condition has a very straightforward definition: It refers to pain that pertains to or originates in an intervertebral disc. The pain can be localized, meaning that it stays in the spot of the nerve irritation, or referred, meaning that it appears in parts of the body other than the site of origin. Discogenic pain is often caused by the bulging, herniation or thinning of a disc.
The anatomy of discogenic syndrome
There are 24 vertebrae in the three uppermost sections of the spine, and a spongy pad of cartilaginous material called an intervertebral disc separates each vertebra from the next (except the top two). These discs have an outer wall (annulus fibrosus) that is made of fibrocartilage, allowing it to be tough, flexible and elastic. The inner disc material (nucleus pulposus) is made of a protein-infused gel. Healthy intervertebral discs absorb shock for the spine and its vertebrae, while also connecting adjacent vertebrae. As we age, however, the discs begin to lose water content, thus becoming inelastic and brittle. These discogenic changes, which are sometimes called discogenic degenerative disease, can cause fissures in the outer wall. A disc can bulge or herniate, causing the spinal nerves in the canal to be painfully compressed. Depending on the region of spinal compression, pain can present in the arms, legs, pelvic area, hands or feet. If the innermost layer of the disc wall tears and causes fluid to leak into the annulus, but not into the spinal canal itself, it may irritate the local nerves that innervate the disc wall and cause localized, stationary pain (internal disc disruption).
How is discogenic syndrome diagnosed?
If your physician suspects that you may be experiencing neck or back pain due to discogenic syndrome, he or she will likely order an MRI or CT scan to pinpoint the exact location of disc irritation. You may also undergo a discography, which is when contrast dye is injected into the discs that the physician suspects are causing your pain. The dye not only makes the disc more visible, but also reveals pain patterns that help to confirm a diagnosis.
Treating discogenic syndrome
If you have some form of degenerative discogenic disease, you should attempt non-surgical treatments first and consider spine surgery only as your last resort. Pain medication (analgesics), anti-inflammatory drugs, cortisone injections, massage and physical therapy can all help you to manage discogenic pain. However, if these methods prove ineffective after several weeks or months, the expert medical team at Laser Spine Institute can tell you more about our minimally invasive outpatient procedures. Our advanced techniques have helped tens of thousands of people just like you to find relief from back pain. Contact Laser Spine Institute for your MRI review to determine if you are a candidate for one of our procedures.