The human spine is comprised of five different segments: the cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, sacrum, and coccyx, with each segment supporting a different part of the body. The spine is able to accomplish its many tasks in large part because of a soft cushion of cartilage in between each vertebra, which acts as padding to absorb the pressures of everyday movement. It is because of these soft, oval “discs” that the lumbar spine (in the lower back) is capable of supporting much of the body weight and the cervical spine (in the neck) can support and move the head. However, like every other part of the body, intervertebral discs are prone to wear and tear. As the discs degenerate, they can bulge, slip, or even rupture and herniate.
If the discs herniate, there is a risk they will apply pressure or pinch the neighboring nerve roots and spinal cord, which can signal pain or interrupt signals being sent back and forth from the brain to the rest of the body. The resulting symptoms depend largely on the origin, location, and severity of the herniated disc. The three main types of herniated discs are:
- Lumbar herniated discs (L1-L5) – between the 5 -6 vertebrae in the lower back
- Cervical herniated discs (C1-C7) – between the 7 vertebrae in the neck
- Thoracic herniated discs (T1-T12) – between the 12 vertebrae in the middle back
By far, the highest frequency of herniated discs occurs in the lumbar (lower) spine because of its exceptional weight load combined with a wide range of motion. A lumbar herniated disc can obviously cause lower back pain, but it also can be the source for tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness in the lower extremities as well.
A herniated disc in the cervical spine (the neck) is also a relatively common occurrence. As the support center and pivoting point for the head and the source of many nerve roots for the arms and hands, the cervical spine is prone to disc damage.
A thoracic herniated disc is the most infrequent of the three. The 12 vertebrae of the cervical spine are attached to the ribcage and do not have the range of motion of the lumbar and cervical spines. However, a thoracic herniated disc is certainly still possible and can be the cause of pain throughout the upper back and torso.
Contact the award-winning surgeons and staff at Laser Spine Institute (LSI) to learn more about lumbar, cervical, and thoracic herniated discs, and for a free review of your MRI or CT scan. Pain relief may be even closer than you think.