Many cases of neck and back pain you experience can potentially be traced to an underlying condition affecting the spinal discs. Disc problems can often result in spinal nerve compression, the root cause of much spine-related pain and symptoms. Disc conditions, like degenerative disc disease or a herniated disc, can occur anywhere along the spine, but is most commonly found in the lumbar (lower) spine. This is because the lumbar spine bears significant weight while being flexible enough for movement. Disc problems also very often occur in the cervical (upper) spine because it supports the head and also facilitates movement.
Common causes of disc problems
When a disc bulges, herniates or thins, it extends beyond its natural boundaries within the spine. Displaced disc material may compress the spinal cord or the nerve roots as they branch off the spinal cord. The pressure placed upon nerves may cause localized pain, radiating pain, sciatica, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling in the extremities.
The specific symptoms depend on the location of the disc that is causing nerve compression. For example, a compressed nerve in the neck may cause symptoms in the shoulders, arms and hands, while a compressed nerve in the lower back may cause issues in the hips, buttocks and legs.
Disc problems can be caused by injury or degenerative disc disease, which refers to age-related breakdown of the discs. As we age, spinal discs lose protein and water content, causing discs to weaken and lose height and elasticity. 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.
Treatment for disc problems
Typically a doctor will recommend a conservative treatment plan after diagnosing a disc condition as the source of symptoms. These methods can include:
- Physical therapy. This includes stretching and strength exercises.
- Medication. 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 acts as a temporary numbing agent.
- Epidural steroid injections. These injections reduce nerve inflammation and pain for an intermediate period of time while the progress of the condition is monitored.
In the event that your disc problems are not sufficiently treated with a conservative approach, a range of elective surgical treatments may be recommended to achieve long-term relief. At Laser Spine Institute, our team of spinal surgeons addresses neck and back pain caused by degenerative disc disease and other disc problems 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, contact us today.
We’ll be happy to provide a free MRI or CT scan review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.