What Is A Bad Disc In Your Spine?

What Is A Bad Disc In Your Spine?

Chiropractic Fairview NC Disc Pain

By: Ed Reilly DC

Discs act as cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. They're composed of an outer layer of tough fibrocartilage that surrounds softer cartilage in the center. It may help to think of them as miniature jelly doughnuts, exactly the right size to fit between your vertebrae.

Discs show signs of wear and tear with age. Over time, discs dehydrate and their cartilage stiffens. These changes can cause the outer layer of the disc, such as bulging, herniated, extruded, or ruptured discs.

With a bulging disc, the outer layer bulges out fairly evenly all the way around its circumference — so it looks a little like a hamburger that's too big for its bun.

A bulging disc doesn't always affect the entire perimeter of a disc, but at least a quarter if not half of the disk's circumference is usually affected. Only the outer layer of tough cartilage is involved.

A herniated disc, on the other hand, results when a crack in the tough outer layer of fibrocartilage allows some of the softer inner cartilage to protrude out of the disk. Herniated discs are also called ruptured disks or slipped discs, although the whole disc does not rupture or slip. Only the small area of the crack is affected. It’s similar to a glob of jelly bubbling out of a jelly doughnut.

Compared with a bulging disc, a herniated disk is more likely to cause pain because it generally protrudes farther and is more likely to irritate nerve roots. The irritation can be from compression of the nerve or, much more commonly, the herniation causes a painful inflammation of the nerve root.

Disc extrusion occurs when a disc in the spine tears or bulges under the constant pressure or surrounding vertebrae. In some severe cases, the outer layer of the disc can tear, allowing inner disc fluid to leak into the spinal canal; kind of like a glob of jelly leaking down the side of a jelly doughnut. These are difficult to treat and are the likeliest to lead to surgery. However some recover without surgery.

A ruptured disc occurs when a tear or weakness in an intervertebral disc’s protective outer layer allows the inner layer to leak through its barrier and into the spinal canal. This can put pressure on area nerves, causing pain, discomfort and other complications. Ruptured discs are one of the most common underlying causes of sciatica and lower back pain, the latter of which is leading cause of work-related disability in the United States.

Good News:

The good news is that rarely do bulging or herniated discs lead to surgical repair; some can improve on their own while others get better with advanced non- surgical therapies. When leg or arm muscles continue to weaken; or there is loss of bowel or bladder function surgery may be indicated. Most disc surgery occur because there is no way to reduce pain rather urgent surgical need.  Long term studies show similar outcomes for disc herniation treated surgically or non-surgically.


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Fairview Chiropractic Center
2 Fairview Hills Drive
Fairview, NC 28730
(828) 628-7800