The disks located in your spinal column act as divisions between each vertebra. Unlike the other elements comprising your skeletal structure, these disks do not contain blood vessels and nerves. Rather, they are made up of water, fats, and tissues that connect to your skeletal structure. These disks undergo a never-ending cycle of leaking and restoring water all day. Their fat and water content are well-balanced and thick, but it normally begins to thin out as a person ages. This thinning of the water and fats in your spinal disks is often what leaves you at risk of osteoarthritis. It is also one of the common causes of lower back pain.
The exterior or outer portion of your spinal disks is known as the annulus fibrosis. It is composed of concentric sheets of collagen fibres that surround its soft inner core. The primary function of these disks is to act as a shock absorber for your spinal column as well as ligaments that hold your vertebrae together. Your spinal disks have an amazing combination of strength and flexibility that can withstand high levels of pressure. However, there are some factors that damage or interrupt your disks’ strength and flexibility and when that happens, major problems can occur.
When part of a spinal disk weakens, it can rupture, pushing a part or the entire disc out of its normal boundaries. This occurrence is known as a herniated disk or a slipped disk. In medical terms, herniated disks are identified according to which particular disk is affected. For instance, L4-L5 means that the herniation occurred between lumbar segments 4 and 5, which are located towards the bottom of the spine. Another common slipped disk occurrence is at C5-6, which is at the cervical spine.
The common causes of herniated disks are accidents, trauma, overstraining of the back and neck, improper lifting of heavy object, disk degeneration, weak ligaments, and congenital bone deformity. The most common symptoms of herniated disks that occur in the lumbar area are lower back pain that radiates down the buttocks and legs, weakness, numbness, and tingling sensations down the legs and feet. For herniated disks in the cervical area, the common symptoms are stiffness around the neck, weakness, numbness, neck pain that radiates down the arms and hands, tingling sensations around the hands, fatigue in the upper regions of the body, atrophy of the biceps and triceps, limited range of movement in the back muscles and lumbar pain.
Although the spinal disks do not contain nerves or blood vessels, any damage cause to them can still result in pain because when a disk is pushed out of its normal alignment, surrounding nerves are usually pinched. Most often, your doctor will be able to diagnose a herniated disk through testing of your sensations, muscle strength, and reflexes. X-rays and an MRI may also be ordered. Depending on the results and other factors such as your age and the symptoms you exhibit, your doctor can map out a treatment plan that may include rest, activity modification, ice and heat applications, physical therapy, and medication.