by Kristy Donnelly, D.C.
Disc disorders or injuries can have multiple meanings including annular tear, disc bulge and disc herniation/protrusion. But what exactly do these terms mean and how do the discs become injured? To understand, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of spinal anatomy.
The spinal column is made of 24 bones called vertebrae and a disc between each. The vertebrae function as protection for the spinal cord and the discs function as shock absorbers for the spine. Discs are comprised of an outer protective layer called the annulus fibrosis and a softer, gelatinous inside component known as the nucleus pulposus. With time, trauma, genetics and/or a sedentary lifestyle, the discs tend to dehydrate and become more prone to injury to the outside layer, the inside material or both.
When only the outside layer is damaged but the nucleus pulposus inside remains intact, it is called an annular tear.
A disc bulge is when a weakened disc loses its height and swells to become wider which makes it easier to put pressure on the nearby spinal nerves.
A disc protrusion which is also known as a disc herniation, slipped disc or ruptured disc, is when the nucleus pulposus leaks out of the inside of the disc. It usually goes to one side or the other, and can make contact with the spinal nerves causing pain, numbness or tingling in the spine and/or down the arms and legs.
Being diagnosed with a disc herniation scares most people and makes many of them immediately wonder if they will need surgery, be permanently impaired or be in pain for the rest of their lives.
While some disc injuries can be very serious and require immediate intervention, it is not always the case. In fact, many people who have never had any kind of trauma live with disc bulges and disc herniations with either no pain or mild sporadic pain. The situation varies from person to person, so there is no one size fits all treatment option.
At Absolute Injury & Pain Physicians, we are equipped to treat our patients with a variety of options from physiotherapy, manual adjustments, decompression therapy, trigger point injections and epidural steroid injections.
If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from spinal disc pain, give us a call today!