The spine is composed of vertebrae, a series of bones, the spinal canal, and rubber-like discs stacked on top of one another. In the center of the spine, you will find the spinal cord, which is composed of a bundle of nerves that provides the function to your arms and legs.
Each of the discs in your spine act as shock absorbers between each vertebrae helping to limit damage to the spinal tissues and bones. These discs are made of two parts. The nucleus pulposus is a gelatinous liquid-like center and the annulus fibrosus is a tough elastic band that encircles the soft center.
When a disc slips or moves, it can cause the gelatinous material from the center to swell outward through the weakest part of the elastic shell. When this happens, it can press against nerves causing discomfort.
The condition can occur at any age but is mostly seen in the older population or individuals who have put tremendous amounts of strain on their back through physical activities. We normally see symptoms happen gradually and affect multiple areas, as opposed to a herniated disc.
Tingling or pain in the fingers, hands, arms, neck, and/or shoulders
Tingling or pain in the feet, thighs, lower back, and/or buttocks
Difficulty walking or limitations while lifting objects
To diagnose, your doctor will perform a clinical exam and ask you a number of questions regarding your symptoms. Your doctor may look for abnormalities via a physical examination, X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
When appropriate, non-surgical intervention is the first choice and may include:
1. Medications (anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, steroids)
2. Physical Therapy (core strengthening, stretching, soft tissue release)
3. Steroid Injections (epidural, facet blocks)
If non-surgical treatment fails, surgery may be recommended to treat the underlying condition.