The intervertebral discs serve as elastic link between the single vertebras of the spine and give flexibility. Additionally, they serve as shock absorbers and absorb shocks due to walking or running. The discs consist of an elastic ring (annulus fibrosus) and a soft core (gelatinous core). Due to the heavy strain the vertebras are exposed to everyday the water content of the gelatinous core decreases. This diminishes the space between the single vertebras. That’s the reason why the body size decreases about one to two centimeters during the day. In the night, the loss of water is compensated again.
With increasing age the elasticity of the gelatinous core decreases and the annulus fibrosus becomes brittle and yields quicker. The elasticity of the intervertebral discs decreases, the intervertebral discs wear. Cracks form in the annulus fibrosus and the soft gelatinous core leaks, shifts and vaults out of the edges of the vertebras. Like this it gets closer to the surrounding spinal nerves and nerve roots. A spinal disc protrusion with an intact annulus fibrosus is precursor of a herniated disc. When the gelatinous core is penetrating the annulus fibrosus we are talking about a herniated disc.
Besides age, there are other things that negatively influence the intervertebral discs:
- Incorrect loading of the spine due to malposition
- Heavy physical work
- Lack of exercise
- Weak musculature in the back
- Congenital weakness of connective tissue
- Rarely injuries or accidents
How to recognize a herniated disc
Back pain do not automatically have to be an indication for a herniated disc. Often, tense muscles or sticky fascia cause the pain. Seek medical advice or consult your therapist should the pain should last longer than a couple of days.
In case of a herniated disc, most of the time you have the sensation of a sudden and severe pain in the spinal segment concerned which may radiate into other regions of the body.
- A herniated disc in the lumbar spine leads to pain in this region. But, it might also impair the legs. The regions concerned might have sensory disturbances like numbness and tingling or even muscle weakness.
- A herniated disc in the cervical spine leads to impairment in the shoulder region, the arms and hands.
- A herniated disc in the thoracic spine occurs rather rarely. In exceptional cases symptoms like disturbances in defecation or urination, accompanied by a sensation of numbness in the anal- and genital-area as well as in the inner side of the thighs might occur. These signs are classified as an emergency and have to be treated surgically.
Otherwise, a herniated disc often is treated with physiotherapy and conservative therapy including calm, pain therapy and change of the way of living.
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