The intervertebral disc, commonly referred to simply as ‘disc’, is the cushion that lies between each vertebrae of the spine. The role of the disc is to absorb the forces from the body and increase mobility of the spine. The disc is comprised of 2 main parts: the outer casing known as the Annulus Fibrosis and the inner gel-like material known as the Nucleus Pulposus. We often use the analogy of the disc being like a jelly filled doughnut.
Disc bulging occurs when compressive forces from bending and the weight of the body cause the disc to flatten down. An easy way to understand this is if you imagine the disc is like an inner tube. If you were to stand on the top of an inner tube, the sides of the inner tube would bulge outward. When the disc bulges outward it can press of the spinal cord and/or the nerves that come from the spinal cord. This can cause pain and may produce symptoms that travel into the extremities. Once the compressive forces are removed, the disc will rise back to its normal height and the bulging will go away. A bulging disc can turn into a herniated disc with repeated stress and strain.
Overtime, stress and strain on the disc can create small cracks in the outer layer of the disc. Once enough of these cracks form they can connect to each other and create one continuous crack that spans from the inner portion of the disc to the outer portion of the disc. When this occurs, some of the inner gel material may escape out of the disc and this is known as a disc herniation. Activities such as bending, lifting, and even coughing and sneezing will increase the pressure on the disc and cause more of the inner gel material to be pushed out. Disc herniations can cause neck and back pain as well as possible numbness, tingling, and/or burning that travels down the arms or the legs.
If you are concerned that you may be suffering from a disc disorder and would like to examined by one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy, please call our Clermont or Ocoee office at 352-404-6908.