Spinal Discs. Are They Causing your Back Pain?
Chronic low back pain that originates from the spinal disc is very common. In fact it is estimated that spinal discs account for up to 45% of all back pain. That's a lot when you consider that 80% of the population will suffer from back pain at some point!
But what are discs, and how do you even know if it actually is the problem that is causing your back pain?
It wasn't that long ago that any time you had lower back pain, it would have been diagnosed as a 'slipped disc'. It was the most common throw around phrase to describe back pain, and it is also entirely incorrect.
Firstly, we need to clear up that the spinal discs do not 'slip'. It is anatomically impossible for the disc to slip out of place, not even a millimetre. However they can degenerate, develop tears, bulges and even herniations.
What do Spinal Discs Look Like, And What Is Their Function.
The spinal discs are a unique structure. They are round(ish) in shape, with a flat top and bottom that attach securely to the vertebra above and below. The discs consist of 2 parts, a tough outer ring (anulus fibrosis) and a softer, fibrous inner component (nucleus pulposus).
There are 23 spinal discs in our spinal column. Their primary function is to act as a shock absorber between the bones in our spine (the vertebra) to stop them banging or rubbing against each other. They also hold the vertebra together and allow movement between them.
The spinal disc itself has very few nerve endings and no blood supply. Without a blood supply the disc is unable to repair itself, and this means that pain coming from a damaged disc can last for years.
There are several different problems that can occur in the disc to cause back pain, and they can cause differing symptoms as well.
Disc problems can generally be categorised as either:
Degenerative Disc Disease
Thinning discs and osteophyte formation are a progression of Degenerative Disc Disease.
Unfortunately, spinal disc problems are often misunderstood for a variety of reasons.
Health professionals often have a hard time agreeing on causes of pain related to the spinal disc. Patients have a hard time understanding this complicated medical topic. On top of all that, there are many different terms used to describe disc related pain (slipped disc, pinched nerve, sciatica, bulging disc, etc.) No wonder it gets so confusing, and that's just for the doctors!
It's also important to note that you can actually have a problem with the disc (such as degeneration or a bulge) and not have any pain at all. In fact a relatively high percentage of the population over the age of 40 has a disc disorder that can be seen with MRI studies (disc bulges and annular tears are very common). This does not mean that you will experience pain or any other symptom.
The following pages cover the different disc categories in more detail.
Next Page: Degenerative Disc Disease
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