Learn About Ailments | Disc Problems

Disc Problems

Discs act as cushions between the back bones (vertebrae) and these discs are susceptible to disease or injury causing pain in the back and legs. Disc problems include sciatica pain (a burst disc), disc prolapse (a slipped disc) and degenerative disc disease (wear and tear of the disc cartilage).
Disc Problems

In This Article
Causes of disc problems Symptoms of disc problems
Diagnosis of disc problems Related terms

The term 'disc' refers to the protective cartilage in between the spinal bones (vertebrae). These circular discs cushion the vertebrae when running, jumping or when pressure is placed down through the spine. The discs are made from a tough outer casing which contains a soft gel substance inside. The discs are susceptible to disease and injury which can result in disc and back problems.

The main causes of disc problems are listed below.

Degenerative disease
At a young age, the discs between the vertebrae are plump but with age they begin to soften as water content reduces. This results in the discs becoming thin and hard and growths known as bone spurs can develop around the disc. Some people develop these growths with no associated problems but for those who experience pain they have a condition called degenerative disc disease.

Slipped disc
The term 'slipped disc' isn't entirely accurate as it suggests the cartilage has moved out of position and this is not the case. In medical terms, the problem is described as a 'ruptured disc' or 'herniated disc.

The discs are held in position by ligaments, muscles and the vertebrae. When a crack in the hard outer casing develops, the soft gel-like substance inside seeps out. What causes this crack to occur is not always clear but age is the most likely factor as the disc becomes less flexible and more prone to rupturing.

There are a number of factors which can place pressure on the spine which can cause a rupture in the disc. These include:
  • bending over awkwardly
  • lifting heavy objects
  • sitting for prolonged periods
  • being overweight
  • sports that involve weight-bearing (e.g. weight-lifting)
  • back injuries (e.g. from a fall or car accident)
A ruptured disc typically occurs in the lower back.

The sciatic nerve runs from the spine, through the buttock and down the back of the leg. Whenever the body moves, the spinal cord has room to move up and down the spinal column however if a disc ruptures it can protrude into the spinal column and press against the cord and sciatic nerve. This restricts movement of the cord and causes pain through the lower back and leg.

Some people can experience disc problems with little or no symptoms but for the majority they will experience pain in the lower back, legs and occasionally other parts of the body.

Pain can be acute (short and sharp) or chronic (dull and aching). There may also be some numbness and a tingling sensation which radiates down into the legs.

If the disc presses on other nerves in the spinal cord it can result in muscle paralysis, spasms or a loss of bladder control.

A condition called 'cauda equina syndrome' occurs when nerves at the base of the spinal cord become compressed. Symptoms of this condition include:
  • lower back pain
  • numbness in the groin
  • leg paralysis (one or both)
  • pain in the rectum
  • bowel problems (inability to pass urine)
  • inside thigh pain
Cauda equina syndrome can permanently damage the bladder and bowel so it is important to seek medical treatment immediately.

A GP will make a diagnosis of disc problems based on your symptoms and medical history. The GP will perform a physical examination to test your reflexes, muscle strength, ability to walk and limb sensation.

The GP may refer you for further diagnostic tests to gain a better understanding of your condition. Tests include an MRI scan, a CT scan or a Myelogram (a dye injected into the spinal fluid which shows up on X-ray to show what pressure is on the spinal cord or nerves).

Back pain
Back problems
Intervertebral discs
Spinal disc herniation

Therapies to consider
Acupressure Alexander Technique Bowen Therapy
Chiropractic Craniosacral Therapy Deep Tissue Massage
Hawaiian Massage Holistic Massage Massage
Massage Swedish Osteopathy Personal Training
Physiotherapy Pilates Podiatry (Chiropody)
Reflexology Sports Massage Yoga


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