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Disc Herniation - Introduction

The spine is made up of bones (vertebrae), each one separated by a strong shock absorbing cushion called the intervertebral disc. The role of the disc is to act as an energy converter so as to transmit kinetic energy throughout the torso. This helps in the function of the spine to act as a rigid brace where the spine needs to be a stiff fulcrum but also where the spine needs to act as a coil thus increasing the power of the arms and legs.

There are 7 cervical (neck) vertebrae, 12 thoracic (chest) vertebrae, 5 lumbar (lower back) vertebrae, 5 sacral vertebrae and a coccyx. Disc herniations can appear at the cervical, thoracic and lumbar levels; lumbar and cervical spines are the most frequently affected.

The intervertebral disc is composed of a soft jelly-like material at its center, surrounded by a very resistant fibrous ring. This jelly is called nucleus pulposus and, when healthy, is generally soft. With aging, the nucleus begins to dehydrate and becomes dried out. At the same time, there can be cracks in the back part of the fibrous ring through which a jelly fragment can escape.

Who gets it and when/what causes this?

Disc degeneration results from the natural aging of intervertebral discs. A disc herniation is sometimes referred to as a “slipped disc” and there are a number of factors that can put increased pressure and strain on the spine including:
  • Not lifting properly
  • smoking
  • being overweight or obese
  • weightlifting sports
  • a traumatic injury to the back or neck, such as a fall or car accident
Situations such as these can weaken the disc tissue and can sometimes lead to a slipped disc, although more than 50% of the average population has a herniated disc that does not cause any problems. The reasons why a disc herniation becomes symptomatic are not well known. In most cases, conservative treatment is able to relieve the symptoms of a herniated disc, and the herniation will often settle within six months.

Only a minority of patients (less than 5%) suffering from arm or leg pain due to disc herniation need surgical treatment.
EUROSPINE is a society of spine specialists of various disciplines with a large knowledge of spine pathologies. All well-known and accepted treatment modalities for spine pathologies are represented by the members of the society. However, the Society cannot accept any responsibility for the use of the information provided; the user and their health care professionals must retain responsibility for their health care management.
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