Common Disc Issues

It is important to know the difference in the most common disc issues: herniated/ruptured disc, bulging discs and degenerative disc. It is also to important to understand the symptoms, risk factors and treatment options for disc issues. Most people are unaware that you can experience radicular pain in other parts of your body that originate from common disc issues in your spine.

The spine is made up of 33 bones:

      • 7 vertebrae in the cervical spine (neck)
      • 12 vertebrae in the thoracic spine (mid back)
      • 5 vertebrae in the lumbar (low back)
      • 5 fused vertebrae in the sacral region (sitting area)
      • 4 fused in the coccygeal region (tailbone)

The top 24 vertebrae have a disc between each level to act as a cushion or a shock absorber and to prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against each other. The outer layer of a disc is called the annulus which is a tough fibrous tissue that attaches between each vertebra. Each disc also has a gel-filled center called the nucleus. The nerves branch out from the spinal cord and run through the body. These nerves send signals or impulses back and forth from the brain all throughout the body controlling movements, sensation, and pain.

    • Degenerative Disc – The discs in your spine are mostly made up of water. As you age, they lose water and get thinner. Flatter discs can’t absorb shocks as well. The water loss also means less cushion or padding between your vertebrae. This can lead to other problems in your spine that may cause pain.
    • Bulging Disc – (protrusion) occurs when the disc annulus remains intact, but forms an outpouching that can press against the nerve(s).
    • Herniated/Ruptured Disc – (also called a ruptured or slipped disc) occurs when the disc annulus cracks or ruptures, allowing the gel-filled center to squeeze out. Sometimes the herniation is so severe that a free fragment occurs, meaning a piece has broken completely free from the disc and is in the spinal canal. Surgery could be an option if the usual treatments are not working in your favor. If you need spine surgery, you might want to look for help from Dr Timothy Steel (or others based on your location), since they have years of experience and expertise in performing complex spine surgeries.

Compression on the nerves can cause pain, tingling sensations, numbness, and even weakness. If the herniated disc is in the neck then you may experience these symptoms from the shoulder and down into the hands. If the herniated disk is in the low bacc you may experience these symptoms from the hips down into the feet. An MRI is usually done to confirm diagnosis.

Risk Factors

      • Obesity – causes added stress to the spine that may result in a herniated disk.
      • Genetics – some people are more prone to developing the issue.
      • Occupation- Physical jobs that require repetitive bending, lifting, and pushing, pulling, and twisting can increase your risk.

Treatment options depend on the severity and acuity of pain. Physical therapy is often including in a plan of care for neck or back disc issues to strengthen and address muscle imbalances that directly affect the mechanics of the spine. Instruction on proper body mechanics and lifting techniques are important to avoid future injuries. Modalities such as ice, heat, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and traction to the cervical or lumbar spine may be included in your plan of care during therapy.

If the above conservative treatments do not decrease symptoms, then an epidural or surgery may be an option. Although there are several risk factors with doing any spinal surgeries and will be discussed between surgeon and patient. Surgery is not guaranteed to help everyone and every case.

If you are experiencing any kind of neck or back pain contact us for a free consultation. To request an appointment, click here, or call directly to one of our three locations during regular business hours:

Cool Springs: 615-224-9810
Shelbyville: 931-684-0027
Spring Hill: 931-489-2022

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is intended to be informational only, and is not intended to be used in lieu of medical care. Consult a doctor or a physical therapist before attempting treatment on your own.

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