|Herniated Disc Disease|
The inter-vertebral discs are the shock-absorbing cushions between each pair of vertebrae in your spine. Each disc has a strong outer ring of fibers, called the annulus, and a soft, gelatinous center, called the nucleus pulposus. The disc’s nucleus serves as the main shock absorber for the adjacent vertebrae.
In addition to back pain, a herniated disc can cause pain in other parts of the body. Because nerve roots carry signals to other parts of the body, a herniated disc that compresses a nerve root can cause pain in other body parts. For example, a herniated disc in the lower back may compress the sciatic nerve root, causing the pain and/or numbness known as sciatica, which runs down the back of the leg. A herniated cervical disc, on the other hand, can cause neck and arm pain. In fact, the hallmark of a herniated disc is radicular pain—pain that runs down into the arm or leg. This pain also may be associated with numbness or weakness in the same distribution.
A traumatic event can put too much pressure on a disc all at once, causing a sudden rupture. For example, falling from a ladder and landing in a sitting position applies a tremendous amount of sudden force on the spine, which can result in a broken vertebra or a ruptured disc. A smaller amount of force can also rupture a disc, especially if the tough outer ring (annulus) has been weakened by repeated injuries that have added up over time. A weakened disc may rupture while lifting or bending, low-impact activities that probably would not have caused a problem five years earlier. The effects of aging on the spine, which makes discs more vulnerable to ruptures, is the most common cause of disc herniation in the thoracic spine.
To diagnose a herniated disc, the doctor will begin by obtaining a complete history of the problem and administering a physical exam. An MRI, the most common test used to diagnose a herniated disc, is painless and accurate.
The treatment of a herniated disc depends on the symptoms. Since most herniated discs heal without surgical treatment, your doctor may first suggest careful monitoring. If the symptoms improve, no other treatment may be needed. However, if symptoms worsen, your doctor might suggest surgery.