Spinal disc herniation is a condition wherein a tear or rupture in the outer wall of an intervertebral disc has allowed the gel-like substance at the center of the disc to leak into the spinal canal. This leakage can impinge or irritate nerve roots along the spinal cord, potentially causing back or neck pain and other symptoms such as traveling pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in different parts of the body.
Spinal disc herniation has several causes, including poor posture, repetitive stress on the structure of the spine, spinal injury, and normal wear-and-tear over time. Herniated discs occur most often within the lumbar spine (or lower back), because the flexible lower back bears most of the body’s weight. It also can occur within the upper spine (or neck), where the cervical vertebrae support the weight of the head and aid in a wide range of upper-body motion. A herniation rarely occurs within the more stable thoracic vertebrae, which support the ribcage and form the relatively inflexible central portion of the spine.
Here are the four stages of spinal disc herniation:
- Degeneration – the disc becomes damaged or begins to lose elasticity over time
- Prolapse – a portion of the gel-like substance at the center of the disc presses outward and causes a “bubble” to appear along the tough, fibrous outer layer
- Extrusion – the “bubble” bursts or tears, causing disc matter to leak into the spinal canal
- Sequestration – the leaking disc matter has broken free from the disc and is loose within the spinal canal
Spinal disc herniation rarely requires surgery. Symptoms usually can be controlled using conservative treatments such as physical therapy, exercise, or pain medicine. Occasionally, though, chronic neck or back pain might persist despite weeks or months of conservative treatment and a doctor might present surgery as an option.
Laser Spine Institute (LSI) offers an alternative to traditional open-back or open-neck disc surgery. At LSI, our award-winning surgeons utilize revolutionary endoscopic techniques to perform minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that can help you rediscover a life without pain. Contact LSI to learn more and for a free review of your MRI or CT scan.