An intervertebral disc is located between most of the vertebrae in the spinal column and provides shock absorption for the spine. These elastic, tough discs also prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against each other when the body moves.
The intervertebral discs play a crucial role in the overall health and functioning of the spine. However, because the discs are integral to a healthy spine, they are also susceptible to damage throughout the years. Understanding the purpose of an intervertebral disc will help you make daily choices to protect your overall spine health.
Composition of an intervertebral disc
Intervertebral discs are able to absorb the shock and stress of everyday movement because they are made of a gel-like nucleus and a tough, elastic outer layer.
The outer layer of the disc is a tough material made of collagen fibers that help attach the disc to surrounding vertebrae. The nucleus is made of a jellylike substance made of water and protein. These two components work together to allow the disc to absorb the shock of daily movements and pressure on the spine while still maintaining the proper structure and space between the vertebrae.
Damage to an intervertebral disc
Over time, due to natural aging combined with constant pressure from the surrounding vertebrae the discs will slowly begin to deteriorate. When this happens, certain degenerative conditions may develop, such as a herniated disc or bulging disc.
A bulging disc occurs when a disc expands out of its normal perimeter in the spinal column, but remains intact. A herniated disc or ruptured disc, in contrast, is an intervertebral disc in which the outer layer has split or become torn, causing the inner material to be pushed out. These and other disc conditions can result from a number of causes, including age, injury and lifestyle factors. While not necessarily painful, intervertebral disc conditions can press on nerve roots, causing symptoms such as radiating pain in the neck, back, legs or arms or numbness in the extremities.
A very high number of damaged intervertebral discs occur in the lumbar (lower) spine. This is because the lumbar spine undergoes the most pressure from supporting the weight and movements of the body. A lumbar bulging disc or herniated disc can cause an issue known as sciatica, which occurs when displaced disc material is pressing on the sciatic nerve in the lower back.
Treatment for intervertebral disc conditions
Upon diagnosis of a condition affecting the intervertebral discs, most doctors will recommend a number of conservative treatments to relieve symptoms and improve range of motion in the spine, such as medication and physical therapy. Spine surgery can become a possibility if you have fully pursued these and other treatments without finding the relief necessary to comfortably perform the activities of daily life.
For patients in this situation, Laser Spine Institute provides minimally invasive spine surgery that can treat degenerative spine conditions with a lower risk of complication than traditional open neck or back procedures. Call us today for a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for our procedures.