Spinal Disc Problems: All You Need to Know

Posted on October 10, 2018

Back Pain

Spinal disc pain affects thousands of people every day. For many, chronic lower back pain caused by a degenerated or herniated disc is an everyday struggle, while others experience occasional numbing in their arms and legs. What's the difference between a degenerated and herniated disc? Keep reading to learn more about spinal disc problems from the orthopedic specialists in Suffolk County, NY.

What is a Spinal Disc?

A spinal disc is a semi-soft round disc made of collagen fibers and mucoprotein gel. You have twenty-three discs in total. Each disc is sandwiched between two vertebrae along your spinal cord. When you imagine a spinal disc, imagine your favorite cream-filled cookie. The soft cream in the middle separates the two hard cookies in the same way the spinal disc acts as a cushion between two vertebrae.

The disc itself is comprised of two parts: the outer disc and the inner core. The outer portion is called the annulus fibrosus because it's made of collagen fibers, or lamellas, that wrap protectively around the inner core. The inner core -- also called the nucleus pulposus -- is made of loose fibers in a suspension of gel.

Essentially, the disc could be compared to a jelly-filled doughnut, with a protective outer layer and soft, cream-filled center. The flexibility and pliability of the disc allow the spine to bend and twist as needed. However, its softness is also a weakness that can lead to spinal problems later in life.    


Common Disc Problems

When it comes to spinal disc problems, there are several ways doctors can identify your particular pain. However, when you're experiencing pain, your discs probably fall into one of two categories: degenerated or herniated.

Degenerative disc disease is a condition that affects the disc itself. It's one of the most common sources of lower back and neck pain, particularly in older adults. As the name implies, degenerative disc disease is when wear-and-tear take their toll on the disc, making it less pliant. Some patients experience radicular pain or pain that shoots down their arms or legs. However, radicular pain is also associated with a herniated disc.

When a disc is herniated, the soft, inner core of the disc leaks through the outer collagen wrap and puts pressure on the nerve. This direct contact with the nerve can cause numbness in the legs or arms. When a herniated disc touches the sciatic nerve in the lower back, patients can temporarily lose the ability to walk or maintain balance. A herniated disc is also referred to as a bulging or slipped disc. 

Tests are needed to determine whether your disc is degenerating or bulging. Don’t wait until the pain is unbearable. Get to the root of your back pain and make an appointment today at Peconic Bay with local orthopedic spine specialists in Suffolk County, NY.