The disc is a common culprit in lower back pain and, while less common, can also cause significant neck pain. The spinal discs are located between each vertebra of the spine. They are composed of a tough outer cartilage wall (annulus fibrosis) with a squishy, gelatinous center (the nucleus pulposus). The discs serve to absorb compression, provide space between the bones for nerves to exit and to allow us to flex, bend and twist.
The disc is strong but does have weak points. Repeated bending and twisting, especially while lifting or working in a bent position, can damage the walls of the disc. Herniation of a disc will occur when the gelatinous center of the disc pushes through the wall, tearing the external ring of fibers and extrudes into the canal. It can potentially compress a nerve root, cause inflammation and local swelling as well as significant pain. When the herniated disc pushes on the nerve, the nerve becomes irritated. The characteristic signs of a disc herniation include but are not limited to low back pain, arm or leg pain that is shooting and/or electrical, or numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. There can also be weakness if the nerve is being significantly compressed.
The key is to relieve pressure on the nerve and to start to reduce the disc herniation. This can be done through decompression, traction, neurodynamics and other interventions. Significant relief can be had without having to resort to surgery or medications.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease, but a term used to describe the changes in your spinal discs as you age. As you age, your discs naturally lose height and start to lose flexibility. Degenerative disc disease can take place throughout the spine, but it most often occurs in the discs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region). As the discs get thinner, the spine can become less stable. The body naturally reacts to this by constructing bony growths called bone spurs (osteophytes) to help stabilize the spine. However, sometimes these bone spurs can put pressure on the spinal nerve roots or spinal cord resulting in pain and affecting nerve function. For some people, disc disease is not painful, while others have significant symptoms. The typical symptoms include chronic back or neck pain, with numbness, tingling and pain sometimes appearing in the arms or the legs.
If the bone buildup is severe enough, the spine can also become stenotic, meaning the space for the nerves and spinal cord is decreased and this can lead to very similar symptoms in the neck, low back, arms and legs.
A combination of traction-based treatment, exercise and gentle manipulation can be very helpful for these conditions.