What is a Herniated Disc?
Physical Therapy for Disc Herniations Series (Part 1)
What is a Herniated Disc?
A herniated disc occurs when the cushion-like cartilage (the disc) between the bones of the spine is torn, and the gelatin-like core of the disc leaks. Often mistakenly called a slipped disc, a herniated disc can be caused by sudden trauma or by long-term pressure on the spine. This condition most often affects people aged 30 to 50 years; men are twice as likely to be diagnosed as women. Repeated lifting, participating in weight-bearing sports, obesity, smoking, and poor posture are all risk factors for a herniated disc. The majority of herniated discs do not require surgery, and respond best to physical therapy. Physical therapists design personalized treatment programs to help people with herniated discs regain normal movement, reduce pain, and get back to their regular activities.
The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae (bones) stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebra is a cushion-like piece of cartilage called an “intervertebral disc.” Imagine the disc as a jelly donut:
- The outer portion of the donut is a rubbery substance (the “annulus fibrosus” or AF).
- A gelatin-like substance fills the “hole” in the donut (the “nucleus pulposus” or NP).
In people younger than 30 years of age, the disc is soft, flexible, and absorbs shock extremely well. As individuals age, however, the disc can lose some flexibility. If stress is applied to the spine, the outer part of the disc (AF) can tear, and the gelatin-like core (NP) leaks through the tear. This leaking, or bulging, of the gelatin is called a herniated disc. In more severe cases, the leaked NP can seep outside the spinal column.
Injuries that cause herniation can occur rapidly, or develop slowly over time.
A sudden injury can occur when an individual lifts something while in a poor position. This action strains the spine, and causes the outer part of a disc to suddenly tear.
A slow injury can occur as the result of sitting or standing with poor posture (slumped forward) for hours, weeks, or years, slowly overstretching or tearing the outer part of a disc.
The most common area of the spine to experience a herniated disc is the low back, just below the waist level. Herniated discs also commonly occur in the neck.
Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. If you are struggling with neck or back pain due to a disc injury call the experts at Buffalo Back & Neck Physical Therapy (716-836-2225 / www.buffalobackandneckpt.com) to start feeling better today.