Types of Herniated Nucleus Pulposus and Symptoms of the Condition

Understanding herniated nucleus pulposus types starts with research. Laser Spine Institute can help.

If you’ve been informed that your neck or back pain is being caused by a herniated nucleus pulposus, you may want to know more about your spine, the types of herniated nucleus pulposus that can occur and why they happen. The spine is made up of vertebrae and intervertebral discs that comprise the spinal column, which surrounds and protects vital elements of your nervous system — your spinal cord and nerve roots. The intervertebral discs have a pliable, fibrous outer shell called the annulus fibrosus that contains the inner nucleus pulposus, a gelatinous center made up of water, cartilage, and proteins. A herniated nucleus pulposus happens when a tear occurs in the annulus fibrosus that spans from the outer layer of the disc all the way to the nucleus. This type of disc tear is known as a radial tear.

Types of herniated nucleus pulposus

A herniated nucleus pulposus can occur on any disc in the spine, but most frequently appears in the cervical spine (in the neck region) and the lumbar spine (in the lower back). These areas of the spine are particularly susceptible to disc injury because of their weight-bearing responsibilities and the repeated strain they endure from regular use over the years.

While not all types of herniated nucleus pulposus injuries cause pain, you can experience a wide variety of symptoms depending on a few factors. These factors include the type of tear in the annulus fibrosus and whether the nucleus pulposus materials are compressing or irritating other elements of the spine (such as the disc wall, local nerve roots or the spinal cord). Symptoms also can vary according to the specific location of the injured disc in the spinal column.

Symptoms of the types of herniated nucleus pulposus

Cervical nerve roots, labeled C1-C8, that become inflamed by a herniated nucleus pulposus can cause the corresponding symptoms:

  • C1 and C2 – There is no intervertebral disc between the first two cervical vertebrae (C1 and C2), but if the nerve roots in this area are affected by disc herniation between the next pair of cervical vertebrae (C2 and C3), symptoms could include a tingling discomfort in the neck and base of the skull, problems with neck and head mobility, headaches and pain in the temples
  • C3 and C4 – Pain at the base of the neck, a pins-and-needles feeling in the upper shoulders or headaches behind the eyes and ears
  • C5 and C6 – Weakness or pain that radiates through the upper arms, biceps, forearms, wrists and thumbs
  • C7 and C8 – Numbness, weakness or a pins-and-needles sensation that travels through the triceps, hands and fingers

Lumbar nerve roots, labeled L1-L5, that become compressed by a herniated nucleus pulposus can cause the corresponding symptoms:

  • L1 – Weakness or tingling in the groin or upper thigh areas
  • L2 – Pain around the mid-thighs and buttocks
  • L3 – A pins-and-needles sensation or numbness in the knees and distal thighs
  • L4 – Weakness or tingling in the buttocks, thighs, knees, lower legs and big toes
  • L5 – Radiating pain through the legs, buttocks, feet and toes

To learn more about your diagnosis, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our team can help you understand your condition and explore different treatment options, including our minimally invasive procedures.

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