Chances are you’ve heard of herniated discs before. However, unless you’ve gone to a physician for this condition, chances are you don’t know what a herniated disc is, beyond the fact that it has to do with your back and can be very painful.
A basic understanding of spinal anatomy can be helpful when you are looking for a clearer understanding of what a herniated disc is and why it hurts.
Discs and Their Function in the Spine
Your spine is made up of 24 individual bones known as vertebrae. The vertebrae themselves are composed of cylindrical bases (known as bodies) and protruding bones known as spinous and transverse processes. These are what you can feel when you touch your spine. There is a hollow arch in between these processes and the vertebral body that, when vertebrae are stacked on top of one another, creates a canal through which the spinal cord runs.
Resting in between your vertebral bodies, there are discs that act as shock absorbers for the spine. These discs, composed of a thick wall (known as annulus fibrosus) and a gel-like inner core (nucleus pulposus), facilitate movement and reduce friction between vertebrae. Over time, these discs can be worn to the point that the outer wall ruptures, and this is called a herniated disc. The gel-like substance from inside the disc contains compounds that can leak out and irritate the disc wall, spinal cord, or its protruding nerve roots, causing pain.
What Causes a Herniated Disc?
Herniated discs can arise due to a number of risk factors, including:
- The normal aging process
- Severe trauma such as a car accident or repetitive stress from extended sitting or heavy lifting
- Being overweight or having a sedentary lifestyle
- Unhealthy diet
- Abuse of substances including alcohol and tobacco
How Do I Know When I Have a Herniated Disc?
As herniated discs affect the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system, symptoms can be wide-ranging. They include neck and lower back pain, radiating or “shooting pain” of the limbs on one side of the body, muscle weakness and spasms, numbness of the limbs, and difficulty walking.
If you have been diagnosed with a herniated disc and your physician has tried to treat it without success, contact Laser Spine Institute for an initial consultation. Our trained professionals can review your MRI or CT scan and possibly suggest an outpatient treatment that may alleviate your symptoms.