What is a Spinal Herniation or Herniated Disc?
While many people will refer to spinal herniation as “slipped” discs. This can be confusing term and don’t properly describe what has happened in this potentially painful condition. To shed some light on this matter, it is important to first know a bit about the anatomy of the spine.
In the following article you will find a basic overview of spinal anatomy that can lead to a better understanding of herniated discs.
What is a Spinal Disc?
The spine and back bone are crucial to the support and mobility of the body and are made up of a series of vertebral bone segments that move and twist with the motion of the body. In between each of these bone segments is a spinal disc that works like the cushioning between these bones and allow for smooth painless movement.
The spinal discs also absorb the shock transmitted through the body when running and jumping and play an essential role in the posture and proper curvature of the spine.
The intervertebral discs are perfectly designed for the important task they perform. While they are especially strong, they are also graceful and fluid allowing for heavy loads to be lifted with grace and ease.
Forming the exterior wall of each disc is a tough cellular tissue that looks a bit like the rings of a tree and is named as such –– the annulus fibrosus. This exterior wall serves a couple of important purposes.
- First, it provides the essential strength that allows the disc to function properly.
- Second, it protects the delicate interior of the disc from losing its vital moisture.
This interior part of the disc is called the nucleus pulposus and is made of a soft gel-like substance.
It is the nucleus pulposus that performs the important work of absorbing the shocks transmitted through the skeletal structures. It also provides the capacity to move smoothly and retains the vital moisture that allows each disk to perform its function optimally.
It is interesting to know that at the beginning of the day, the nucleus pulposus is full of moisture. As the day progresses and the back and spine applied to a variety of activities the moisture levels decrease. When we sleep, these levels are restored in preparations for a new day.
And what then is a Herniated Disc?
A disc will become “herniated” due to a variety of conditions that can affect the function and fabric of the disc itself.
While your spinal disc will not actually “slip” from its position, it can become ruptured, bulged or otherwise damaged. These conditions can alter the shape and function of a disc in its position.
Not all herniated discs become ruptured, and those that have not are often referred to as “prolapsed discs” because they can bulge from their proper position. These are also called slipped discs, even though nothing has actually slipped.
If the annulus fibrosus has become torn, the condition is called a ruptured disc. If the rupture has caused some of their protective contents into the body through a hole in the protective annulus fibrosus, the condition is called an extruded or sequester disc.
What are the Causes of Disc Herniation?
The primary cause of disc herniation can be attributed to natural degenerative processes of the body. While none of us like to think about it, the body will naturally begin drying out the discs of the body as we get older, leaving us more susceptible to herniation.
This natural process may happen in someone’s 40s or 50s, although some will begin to experience this much earlier. This degenerative condition has been called DDD (Degenerative Disc Disease) but this is also a misnomer because it is not actually a disease in the true sense of the word. Actually, it is a condition of aging that can cause pain and discomfort.
As the nucleus pulposus begins to lose its moisture and recover it, the balance of the disc is thrown off and the degeneration of the disc has begun. When this condition sets in, it is only natural for the spinal discs to develop a variety of bulges and issues that can affect the integrity and function of each individual disc.
Often times, the disc will develop herniation that are not even detectable unless found with advanced spinal imaging. But, at other times a spinal herniation can be caused by the sudden application of force or a certain movement that places pressure on a weakened or possibly slightly herniated disc and the results can be more serious.
A rule of thumb to keep in mind is that this: the greater the force applied to the disc and the health conditions of the spine will result in the severity of the herniation. If the force was considerable and the conditions of the spinal disc were poor, the pain could be very bad and require more time to heal properly.
It is not uncommon for those involved in a traffic accident to assume their herniation were caused in the accident itself, but there is a possibility that the herniation existed for years before the accident.
While experts are still not sure exactly what causes herniation, it is generally believed that the function of the back and the constant pressure applied to these important discs is largely to blame for herniation and slow attrition.
Ok, so why do herniated discs hurt?
This is a good question. There are actually no nerve endings in any of the discs that could be experiencing pain directly. There have actually been many hypotheses as to why these conditions can cause mild to severe pain, but none have been established as the ultimate reason for disc herniations and pain.
One possible reason is that the spinal columns houses nerves that relay messages to all parts of the body. If a nerve were to become contacted or pinched by a bulging or herniated disc, the pain in that part of the body could be severe.…