Your spine is a stack of vertebral bones and discs that runs from your neck down to your pelvis. The bones give your spine strength and structure, while the discs provide shock-absorbing cushioning with every movement.
Vertebral discs are naturally durable, but injury and degeneration could put you at risk of suffering a herniated disc. Herniated discs are some of the most common back injuries among adults in the United States, and they can be painful.
Dr. Peter Le, DC and our team at Spinal Stenosis and Disc Center, Inc. specialize in spine health. If you think you might have a herniated disc, it’s time to learn more about what causes them and what you can do about it.
How discs herniate
Understanding what causes herniated discs starts with understanding the anatomy of your spine. The human spine has three main sections from the neck to the lower back:
- Cervical spine (7 vertebrae)
- Thoracic spine (12 vertebrae)
- Lumbar spine (5 vertebrae)
Each vertebral bone is cushioned with a flat disc. You have 23 vertebral discs in your spine, and they play an important role in your musculoskeletal system.
Vertebral discs hold your vertebrae together, absorb shock, and cushion your bones. Each disc is covered with a durable, slick material called the annulus fibrosus. The covering protects a soft, gel-like material called the nucleus pulposus.
Healthy discs are firm but flexible, and the nucleus stays inside the disc. A disc herniates when the annulus fibrosus cracks and the nucleus starts leaking out.
The nucleus material or fragments of the annulus fibrosus may press against the nerves in your spinal cord, causing pain, tingling, and numbness. Herniated discs are also called slipped discs and ruptured discs, but all these terms describe the same condition.
Your risk of getting a herniated disc
Anyone can get a herniated disc. It’s one of the most common causes of low back pain in the United States, but certain factors may make you more susceptible to it.
You’re more likely to get a herniated disc if you:
- Are over age 30
- Are overweight or obese
- Have a physically demanding job
- Smoke or use tobacco products
- Have a family history of disc degeneration
An acute injury, like bending suddenly or lifting a heavy object, could cause a disc to herniate. But most of the time, discs herniate due to wear-and-tear, overuse, or simply getting older.
Treatment for herniated discs
Herniated discs can cause bothersome symptoms that keep you from living an active lifestyle. If you have a herniated cervical disc, you might have shoulder, arm, or neck pain. If you have a herniated lumbar disc, pain might be in your lower back, buttocks, or leg.
The good news is that you have lots of treatment options to relieve herniated disc pain. Dr. Le specializes in manual spinal manipulation, massage, and physiotherapy to encourage healing and minimize pain.
Other nonsurgical treatment options for herniated discs include steroid injections, ultrasound therapy, and spinal decompression with DRX 9000®. Many of our patients benefit from a combination of treatments, and we’re here to recommend the best therapies for you.
If you have lingering back pain, numbness, or tingling, it might be a herniated disc. Call our Santa Monica, California, office or request your first appointment online.