Our spine has 24 bones (vertebrae). All those bones, except for the very top two, are separated by cushiony pads called discs. The discs keep the spinal bones linked together, while at the same time allowing your spine to have a great degree of movement. The disc is a soft tissue structure that can tear, just like when you sprain your ankle or pull a muscle.
The spinal disc has 2 basic parts: an inner gel-like fluid called the nucleus pulposus and an outer multi-layered lining called the annulus fibrosus. The outer lining is extremely strong and contains the inner nucleus gel within the center of the disc.
There is a very intimate relationship between the disc and your nervous system (the spinal cord and the nerve roots); they are both directly next to each other. Some of the things that can break a disc down are general wear and tear, being deconditioned and having weak core strength, being over-weight, or trauma. When a disc tears, it is the outer annulus fibrosus lining that tears, allowing the inner gel to seep out, often putting pressure on the spinal cord or the nerve root(s). This phenomenon, where the outer layer tears and the inner gel pushes out is referred to in many ways, including herniated disc, bulged disc, prolapsed disc, slipped disc, ruptured disc, disc protrusion, disc extrusion, HNP (herniated nucleus pulposus), canal stenosis or foraminal stenosis.
Symptoms from a torn disc in the neck (cervical spine) include:
- neck pain
- shoulder pain
- pain or numbness/tingling anywhere in the arm or hand
- weakness anywhere from the shoulder down
- increased symptoms or discomfort when the neck is moved in certain directions
- Clinically we refer to these symptoms as cervical radiculopathy or radiculitis, brachial radiculopathy or radiculitis, or brachial neuritis.
Symptoms from a torn disc in the low back (lumbar spine) include:
- a dull ache, burning, or pulsating pain in the leg, hip, or buttocks
- numbness/tingling in the leg, hip, or buttocks
- pain or numbness in the back of the calf or sole of the foot
- a grip-like feeling at the bottom of the buttocks or in the hamstring
- pain or inability when bending your body forwards (or sometimes backwards)
- increased pain or inability when bending your leg up to put pants or shoes on
- weakness anywhere in the leg or foot
- Clinically we refer to these symptoms as sciatica (pain in the back of the leg), sciatic radiculopathy or neuritis, femoral neuropathy (pain in the front of the leg), or lumbar radiculitis or neuritis.
In our office, we use something called non-surgical spinal disc decompression therapy for the previously described disc conditions in both the neck or the low back. Our disc therapy creates “negative pressure” that will bring the herniated or bulged fluid back in place, allowing the torn disc to heal (see the illustration below). Click this link to see a video of how our therapy works (click the play button once the video comes up). You can read more about our effective, non-surgical disc treatment at the decompression page of our website.
Part II of this blog will discuss the medical treatments that are available for herniated or bulged discs. Part III will discuss some of the alternative or conservative treatments available for herniated or bulged discs.