Disc Herniation - Introduction
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 centre, surrounded by a very resistant fibrous ring. This jelly is called nucleus pulposus and, when healthy, is generally soft. With ageing, 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 ageing of intervertebral discs. It is a 'normal' process.
A disc herniation, sometimes referred to as a 'slipped disc' may be caused by:
Sedentary occupations seem to be more at risk than jobs involving a lot of physical activity. Smoking, being overweight or obese and lack of fitness, appear to be contributing factors for a disc herniation.
Some studies show that more than 50% of the average population has a non-symptomatic herniated disc. The reasons why a disc herniation becomes symptomatic are not well-known in most cases.
Conservative treatment will often result in improvement of the symptoms of a herniated disc, and the herniation will often reabsorb.
Only a minority of patients (less than 5%) suffering from arm or leg pain due to disc herniation, will possibly need surgical treatment.