Disc Herniations

What is a herniated disc?

We have all heard of someone who has suffered from a disc herniation.  But do we know exactly what it is?  Not usually…  Inter vertebral discs are the soft portions of the spine that run alternately between the bony vertebra.  The discs consist of two parts: an outer portion which is the annulus fibrosis and an inner portion which is called the nucleus pulposus.  The disc acts as a shock absorber, especially the nucleus pulposus.

The inner portion (nucleus) of the disc is variable in that it has the ability to move somewhat.  If you place to much pressure on one side of the disc the nucleus can move (or be forced) in the opposite direction.  Kind of like pressing a tube of tooth paste at one end.

A Disc herniation occurs when then nucleus presses against the annulus fibrosis (outer wall) or breaks through it. When the nucleus breaks through this tough outer layer it can press against the spinal cord or spinal nerves.  This causes localized pain, radiating pain down arms or legs, numbness, tingling and/or pins and needles.  It can also cause loss of function, loss of feeling, deceased muscle mass and loss of control of the effected area.

Essentially there are 3 types of herniation’s.  This first is when the nucleus compresses the outer layer but has not broken through it.  The second is when the nucleus has broken through the outer layer and can compress nerves.  And the third is when the nucleus breaks though the outer layer and a portion breaks off causing a fragment to float near nerves and the spinal cord.

Treatment options generally depending on the degree of herniation that one has, ranging from conservative rehabilitation through to surgery.