Most neck and back pain you experience can be traced to underlying disc disease. Disc disease often results in spinal nerve compression, the root cause of most spine-related pain and other symptoms. Disc disease may occur anywhere along the spine, but is most commonly found in the lumbar spine (lower back). This location is logical since the lumbar spine must bear significant weight while moving in a large variety of directions. Disc disease is less common in the cervical spine (neck) because it bears much less weight.
When a disc bulges, ruptures (herniates) or thins, it extends beyond its natural boundaries within the spine. Extended disc material may contact neighboring nerve structures — either on the spinal cord or on the nerve roots as they branch off the spinal cord on their way to other parts of the body. The pressure placed upon neural tissue may present as localized pain, radiating pain (radiculopathy), sciatica, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling in the extremities.
The specific symptoms depend on the function of the specific neural tissue being compressed. For example, a compressed nerve in the neck may cause shoulder symptoms, while a compressed nerve in the lower back may cause the weakness of a leg muscle group.
Disc problems can be caused by injury or degenerative disc disease, but are most often caused by the latter — meaning they are simply a natural consequence of the aging process. As we age, spinal discs lose protein and water content, causing discs to weaken and increasing the likelihood of the disc becoming herniated. A thinning disc can present other problems, such as fragmented disc material irritating nerves or the formation of bone spurs when the hard, bony vertebrae lose their cushioning and rub together. Normally, a physician can manage the symptoms of disc problems nonsurgically, with a conservative treatment plan. These methods can include:
- Physical therapy — This includes stretching and strength exercises.
- Painkillers — These can be either over-the-counter or prescription.
- The application of heat or ice packs — Heat draws blood and nutrients to the damaged area, while cold reduces swelling and spasms.
- Epidural steroid injections — These injections reduce nerve inflammation and pain, but they do not treat the source of the pain (in other words, they don’t shrink a bulging disc or bone spur)/
In the event that your disc problems are not sufficiently treated with any conservative approach, a variety of elective surgical treatments are available to help relieve pain. At Laser Spine Institute, our team of spinal surgeons addresses neck and back pain stemming from disc disease through our minimally invasive spine surgery. Our decompression, and in severe cases, stabilization procedures, are performed in an outpatient setting and have less risk of infection and complication than traditional open neck or back surgery. To learn more about the innovative procedures offered at Laser Spine Institute, and for a review of your MRI report or CT scan, contact us today.