Understanding a Herniated Disc
A herniated disc in the spine can be the source of many problems. Specifically, symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, tenderness, and muscle spasms can all come about as a result of a herniated disc. What exactly is a disc hernia, though? Well, any kind of hernia is a tear of tissue in the body, and a herniated disc simply means that one of the discs situated in between two vertebrae in the spine has torn open. Many different things can cause an intervertebral disc to tear, but a visit to your doctor may be able to help you figure out what exactly has caused your tear, and how to heal it.
The Anatomy of Healthy Discs
Healthy intervertebral discs are essential to the overall well-being of the spine. Their composition includes an annulus fibrosus (outer wall) that encapsulates a gelatinous inner disc material (nucleus pulposus). Also, the height of a healthy disc will be significantly greater than that of an unhealthy disc, enabling the disc to support surrounding vertebrae and keep them in their proper positions. Younger individuals tend to have stronger, fuller, taller discs than do older people, primarily due to the fact that discs lose their ability to retain water and collagen as we age.
The Anatomy of a Herniated Disc
The anatomy of a herniated disc is drastically different to that of a healthy intervertebral disc. Though not necessarily present in all disc hernia cases, herniated discs will generally be flatter and stiffer than healthy discs. The many layers of the disc's annulus fibrosus can begin to tear from the inside of the disc outward, or the disc can develop a tear on the outer surface, sometimes due to being punctured by a bone spur. Furthermore, the jelly-like fluid that makes up the nucleus pulposus can seep out from the tear in the annulus fibrosus and leak into the spinal column. Frequently, discs will heal themselves with scar tissue, but often the fluid from the nucleus pulposus will first escape and irritate other components of the spine, including small nerves in the disc wall, nerve roots branching off from the spinal cord, or the spinal cord itself.