Only a person who has experienced a damaged spinal disk understands the agony and helplessness it brings. The pain can be excruciating. Every movement seems to make it worse.

This pain is a warning signal that you should heed. If you take appropriate action, the discomfort usually stops, and the problem can be corrected.

Recommended Related to Back Pain

Start with your primary-care physician; back pain is so common that most family docs have seen lots of it. Your PCP is also a good person to return to if, later, you get conflicting treatment advice from specialists. He or she can help you evaluate what would be your best next step.

Spinal disks are rubbery pads between the vertebrae, the specialized bones that make up the spinal column. Doctors call them intervertebral disks. Each disk is a flat, circular capsule about an inch in diameter and one-quarter inch thick. They have a tough, fibrous, outer membrane (the annulus fibrosus), and an elastic core (the nucleus pulposus).

The structure of the spinal disc resembles a jelly filled doughnut. The inner aspect of the disc contains a gel-like substance called the nucleus pulposus. Surrounding the nucleus are tough fibrocartilagenous fibers called the annulus fibrosis. These annular fibers contain the inner nuclear material similar to a basketball skin containing the air within.

Disc injury occurs when the annular fibers of the disc are torn. Because the inner regions of the annulus lack "pain" innervation, injuries contained to the inner annulus occur without one's knowledge.

Common causes of annular disc tears include:

  • uncorrected spinal misalignments
  • prolonged sitting
  • poor postural habits
  • poor lifting habits
  • improper workstation setup and ergonomics
  • improper lifting techniques
  • extended periods of vibratory forces (truck and auto drivers, jack hammer operators, etc.)
  • Other factors have been shown to increase the susceptibility of disc injury:
  • inadequate diet and nutrition
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • lack of physical activity

Symptoms of Disc Injury

doubleangle 666 5pxblock lrThe symptoms of disc injury depend upon the location of the disc tears and whether or not the spinal nerves or spinal cord are affected.

When tearing of the annulus occurs within it's inner portion only, generally pain is not experienced. As previously stated, this is because the inner regions of the annulus lack pain receptors. When tearing of the annulus occurs in the outer annular fibers, mild to excruciating pain is felt in a generalized manner. If a lumbar disc is affected, for instance, diffuse low back pain with associated paraspinal muscle spasm is typical.

When numerous partial tears coalesce to form tears which run clear through the thickness of the annulus, the gel-like nucleus is able to escape the disc. If a spinal nerve or the spinal cord is contacted the individual may experience symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling and/or weakness within either or both lower extremities. In rare cases patients may lose the ability to control bowel and bladder functions. If this occurs, immediate medical intervention is required as the condition can become permanent.