Overview of the nucleus pulposus
The spinal discs cushion the vertebrae in the spinal column and are essential to basic movement and flexibility of the upper body. Each disc is composed of two main parts, the annulus fibrosus — which is the tough flexible outer layer — and the nucleus pulposus, which is the softer inner layer.
The nucleus pulposus is composed of water and collagen fibers that distribute pressure evenly across each disc as you sit, stand, walk or engage in various physical activities. For example, when you bend forward, the vertebrae come closer together in front, which pushes the nucleus pulposus toward the back.
Spine conditions affecting the nucleus pulposus
The annulus fibrosus and the nucleus pulposus both begin to lose fluid content as part of the natural aging process, making the discs stiff and weak. This can lead to conditions like degenerative disc disease, which is the gradual thinning and weakening of the discs. In addition to loss of disc height, degenerative disc disease is also related to issues like bulging and herniated discs. A bulging disc is when the outer layer of the disc bulges out of its normal perimeter in the spinal column due to loss of elasticity. A herniated disc occurs when a tear or rupture occurs in the outer layer that allows the nucleus pulposus to push out into the spinal column.
Symptoms of a bulging disc or herniated disc are often related to displaced disc material, such as the nucleus pulposus, putting pressure on adjacent nerves. These symptoms include:
- Neck or back pain
- Muscle weakness
Pain may worsen after standing or sitting for a period of time, when sneezing, coughing or laughing, and when bending or twisting. Everyday activities can become difficult, affecting your quality of life. If you notice any of these symptoms, consult your health care provider. He or she can determine the cause of your pain and prescribe conservative treatment options, including medication, special exercises or physical therapy.
Spine surgery for disc conditions
Some patients may need more than conservative treatment to regain their mobility and find lasting pain relief. If you find yourself in this situation and your physician has recommended surgery, do not automatically agree to a highly invasive traditional open spine surgery. There is another option — minimally invasive spine surgery performed on an outpatient basis at Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is often the clinically appropriate surgical first choice and provides many advantages over open neck or back surgery, including a faster recovery time.^