When we think of our spine, we usually think of the vertebrae. The spine consists of a total of 33 bones, but in adults nine of them are no longer separated. That’s right — seven vertebrae in the cervical/neck portion, 12 in the thoracic/torso portion, and five in the lumbar/lower back. That equals 24 vertebrae, but the spine also technically includes five bones in the sacral region and four in the coccygeal region. Both of these start as individual bones, and then fuse sometime in early adulthood.
That’s the boney part of the equation. In between the 24 remaining, unfused vertebrae are an important part of the spine for those suffering from back pain. It’s the spinal discs. The discs are composed of two parts. There is a tough outer shell and a soft inner core. Kind of like a jelly donut. The discs have three functions:
- They act as shock absorbers between each bony vertebra.
- They act as tough ligaments, holding the individual vertebrae together to make the spine function as a single element.
- They are malleable and allow mobility in the spine.
But trouble occurs when a disc ruptures or herniates. That is often the cause of our back pain.
What causes a disc to herniate?
A disc “herniates” when the softer center pushes out through a tear in the outer annulus fibrosus. An exact cause, such as a car wreck or a fall, usually isn’t obvious. Instead, our discs usually herniate simply due to aging. Interestingly, after the age of 50 most people don’t have herniated discs any longer, as their discs have become so solid that they don’t herniate.
These are typical causes of a herniated disc:
- Wear and tear — The cause of most herniations is simply gradual wear-and-tear that occurs with our discs, due to their continual use. This is called disc degeneration. As we age and our discs lose more and more of their water content, they become less flexible. This makes them more prone to tearing or rupturing, sometimes from the simplest twisting motion.
- Injury — It’s easy to assume a disc herniates due to trauma, such as a fall or blow to the back, but this is rare. Disc injury that leads to herniation is more likely to the most seemingly mundane movements. It can happen if a person lifts items using the back muscles rather than the legs. It can happen when combining lifting and twisting at the same time.
- Combination — The reality is that most herniated discs are a combination of discs becoming less flexible with age and a movement that stressed the disc making it push through the outer shell.
Certain factors can increase your chances of developing a herniated disc:
- Weight — Excess weight produces more stress on the discs in your lower back.
- Occupation — Jobs that involve a lot of lifting, pulling, pushing, and bending and twisting have increased chances of herniating discs.
At Summit Healthcare Pain Clinic, much of what Dr. Trujillo addresses starts with a herniated disc. Now you understand the hows and whys. Do you have pain that could be caused by a herniated disc? Call us at (928) 532-1605 and let’s check it out.