A Guide to Herniated Discs

The different types of herniated discs are named based on their location in the spine. Your spine consists of three main regions: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. One reason the spinal column is able to support the upper body and still have a wide range of motion is because of the rubbery discs that cushion the vertebrae. These soft discs allow the lumbar (lower) spine to support so much of the upper body’s weight and the cervical (upper) spine to support and move the head. However, like every other part of the body, these discs wear out with age. 

A herniated disc is when the liquid center of the disc spills out into the spinal column through a tear in the outer lining of the disc. This can become a painful, life-affecting condition if any of this material compresses or pinches the nerve tissue that the spine protects. This type and location of symptoms depends largely on the location and severity of the herniated disc. 

Types of Herniated Discs

  1. Herniated Disc in the Lumbar Spine – A herniated disc in the lower back occurs when one of the discs in the lumbar (lower) region of the spine ruptures, causing inner disc fluid to be pushed out into the spinal column. This can cause localized disc pain as well as traveling symptoms into the lower body if disc material puts pressure on nearby nerves. 
  2. Herniated Disc in the Thoracic Spine – A herniated disc in the thoracic spine is fairly rare since vertebrae are fixed to the rib cage and do not move. Disc issues here are more often related to traumatic injury like a car accident than age. Symptoms usually travel around to the chest and abdomen. 
  3. Herniated Disc in the Cervical Spine – A herniated disc in the cervical spine is very common because it supports and moves the head. Symptoms here can start in the neck and travel out to the shoulders, arms, and out to the hands. In addition to shooting pain and numbness, your fine motor skills can be affected as well. 

How a Herniated Disc Develops

In a normal, healthy spine, adjacent vertebrae are cushioned and separated by thick, rubbery discs that absorb shock and let the spine bend and flex. Each disc has two main components:

  • Annulus fibrosus – A thick outer layer that gives the disc its strength and stability
  • Nucleus pulposus – Gelatinous inner disc material that gives the disc its flexibility

A herniated disc occurs when a tear develops in the annulus fibrosus, which can allow the nucleus pulposus to extrude into the spinal column. This can cause pain and other similar symptoms if disc material irritates a nerve on the disc wall or if the disc compresses a spinal nerve. 

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

Spinal discs lie between the vertebrae in the spine, cushioning the vertebrae and letting them bend and flex. However, because of the immense amount of pressure they are put under each day. The discs are vulnerable to developing degenerative conditions like herniation. Factors that cause herniated discs are those that either weaken the discs or add to the pressure placed on them. These causes include:

  • The natural aging process, which causes the discs to dry out and lose elasticity
  • Participation in high-impact sports that put a tremendous strain on the spinal column
  • Jobs that require extended periods of sitting or frequent bending, lifting, or twisting, which might damage the discs
  • Obesity, which increases the strain places on the spinal column, especially the discs
  • Using tobacco or consuming excess alcool, either of which can dry out and weaken the discs
  • Traumatic injury, such as an automobile accident

Herniated Disc Treatment Options

If you have been diagnosed with a herniated disc, there are a number of herniated disc treatment options available. For a large number of patients, conservative options like low-impact exercise, hot and cold compression, medication, and physical therapy can provide relief and improved mobility while progress of the condition is monitored. 

However, if you and your doctor decide that conservative treatments have been exhausted without bringing needed relief, surgery may be considered. If you are exploring surgical herniated disc treatments, it’s important to be aware of all available options, including minimally invasive spine surgery. 

BEST Health System

If you are interested in learning more about herniated disc treatment options available through BEST Health System, contact our team today. Our board-certified surgeons specialize in minimally invasive spine surgery which allows patients to avoid the long recovery time. Get started on your path to recovery today and call BEST.