Disc Injuries and Related Symptoms
The human spine consists of 24 spinal bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae house and protect the spinal cord and provide support to enable us to walk upright.
The spinal cord extends downward from the brain and travels through the central canals of each vertebrae. At each level of the spine, spinal nerves branch off the spinal cord on the right and left sides of the spine. These nerves carry messages to and from the brain to every cell, tissue, organ and system in the body. The discs are shock-absorbing structures that are made up of tough, outer fibers called the annulus and a gel-like center called the nucleus. The discs provide space between the vertebrae.
The discs are constantly exposed to compression, torque, twisting and injury. Tiny tears occur in the outer annular fibers of the disc. These tears occur with everyday activities or with trauma. As these tears occur, the disc begins to lose its fluid content.
Disc tears in the outer annulus cause the gel-like nucleus to begin to seep into the annular fibers. This is called a disc bulge. The nucleus is still contained within the outer annular fibers but can cause neck or lower back pain and pressure on the spinal nerves which leads to arm pain, numbness, tingling or weakness and sciatica which is leg pain, numbness, tingling or weakness.
In some cases, the gel-like nucleus seeps into the annular fibers and penetrates the outer annulus. This causes significant neck or lower back pain and/or arm or leg symptoms.
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)
DDD occurs over time and is related more to trauma in our younger years than to age. DDD slowly progresses as the disc loses its fluid content. As the disc loses its height, the vertebrae sit closer together, causing excessive pressure on the nerves and surrounding tissues. This results in a dull, constant aching in the neck or lower back. DDD will not improve on its own and responds extremely well to spinal decompression, especially when the disease is treated in its early stages.
The sciatic nerve is formed by a network of nerves that exits the spine and pelvis. These nerves join together and travel down each leg from the buttocks to the leg, foot and toes. Sciatica is pain, numbness or tingling in the buttocks and/or leg caused by compression of the nerves as they exit the spine. Causes of compression include improperly aligned vertebrae and pelvic joints, bone spurs, thickening of ligaments, scar tissue formation following surgery and disc conditions such as bulges, herniations and degeneration.
A network of nerves exits through the vertebrae in the neck similar to those that travel down the legs from the lower back. These nerves travel down the arms into the hands and fingers. Compression of these nerves can result from improperly aligned neck vertebrae, bone spurs, ligament thickening, scar tissue from surgery or trauma and disc injuries such as bulges, herniations and degeneration. This compression may lead to arm pain, numbness, tingling or weakness.