The different types of herniated discs are named based on the location of the damaged discs in the spine. The human spine consists of five distinct segments: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccyx. The spine is able to accomplish its many tasks – including supporting the weight of the body and allowing for a wide range of motion – in large part because of a soft cushion of cartilage in between any two vertebrae in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. Each disc acts as padding to absorb the pressures of everyday movement. It is because of these soft, intervertebral 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, collapse or even rupture and herniate.
If the discs herniate, there is a chance they will apply pressure or “pinch” the neighboring nerve roots and spinal cord, which can signal pain throughout the path of the nerve, 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.
Here are the three common types of herniated discs:
- Cervical herniated discs (C1-C7) – between any pair of vertebrae among the 7 vertebrae in the neck
- Lumbar herniated discs (L1-L5) – between any pair of vertebrae among the 5 -6 vertebrae in the lower back
- Thoracic herniated discs (T1-T12) – between any pair of vertebrae among the 12 vertebrae in the middle back
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 rarest 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 to learn more about the different types of herniated discs, or for a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan. Pain relief may be even closer than you think.