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What Are Spinal Discs?
What Are Spinal Discs?

Intervertebral discs support the movements of the spine.  The discs are the spongy pads that separate the spinal bones, or vertebrae.  They act as shock absorbers to cushion the spine and prevent the vertebrae from grinding against one another during movement.  This reduces the risk of injury to the spine.  The discs allow people to bend, twist, and tilt their spines without pain. 

Parts of a Disc

  • Annulus Fibrosus – This outer portion of a disc resembles a tire-like structure.  The outer band is formed of strong collagen fibers.  It provides rotational stability and helps to resist compression stress.  The annulus fibrosus protects the soft material in the center of the disc.
  • Nucleus Pulposus – The center portion of the disc is filled with a gel-like substance that moves as our body moves.  This gel core helps provide the shock absorption properties.

Disc Injury and Disease

  • Disc herniation – Herniated discs often occur due to normal wear and tear over the years.  Injury and trauma, such as a fall or accident, may also lead to herniation.  As the outside of the disc weakens, all or part of the nucleus pulposus can leak out through tears or splits in the annulus fibrosus.  This causes irritation and inflammation of nearby nerve roots, resulting in pain.
  • Degenerative disc disease – Discs tend to dry out as part of the aging process.  Their strength and resiliency is adversely affected.  Dehydration results in loss of disc height and less ability to withstand compression as the discs become stiffer.  This can cause pain and instability around the affected discs.

Symptoms of disc herniation

  • Cervical herniation – This often results in pain in the neck and between the shoulder blades.  Pain may radiate down the arm to the hand and fingers and may be aggravated by certain movements.  Numbness and tingling may occur in the shoulder and arm.
  • Lumbar herniation – Low back, or lumbar, herniation is a common cause of low back and leg pain.  Other symptoms may include muscle spasms, leg weakness, and sciatic pain.  Sciatica is a condition in which pain, tingling, and numbness extend from the buttocks down the leg.  Pain may be so intense it interferes with normal daily activities.

Symptoms of degenerative disc disease

Back pain, kidney inflammation, woman suffering from backache at home, health problems concept

Degeneration of the spinal discs results in loss of the joint space and may cause impingement or inflammation of a nerve.  However, pain is not always a symptom.  Some people with degenerative disc disease are not aware they have it until they are tested for another medical issue.

Next Steps

The physicians at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting spinal discs, including herniations and degenerative disc disease.  Non-surgical treatments are often helpful in relieving symptoms.  Surgical treatments are available for patients who have not responded well to more conservative treatments.  If you suffer from neck or low back pain, contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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