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 What Are The 4 Stages Of Disc Herniation And Its Causes?

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The bone structure that makes up the back and neck spinal structure is cushioned with the use of small discs. The discs are flat and round, with a strong outer layer made of fibrosis, also known as the annulus fibrosis. 

The soft jelly-like structure is placed in the center, known as the nucleus pulposus, surrounded by the annulus. In the spinal column, between each vertebra, discs are located, and the main function of these discs is to bear the shock and provide flexibility to the bones in your spinal cord. 

Because of excessive trauma and strain, the annulus fibers can get weak and tear down over time, leaving the nucleus exposed to injuries. A herniated disc is the term that is used to explain a fragment of the wounded nucleus pushing out into the spinal canal via a rupture or tear in the annulus. The canal has a little space, which further reduces the nerve’s size and the fragment of the displaced disc. Because of this displacement, the disc pushes on the other surrounding nerves, often causing pain that may be extreme. 

Depending on the degree of displacement of the nucleus close to the outer annulus, there are 4 stages of disc herniation.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Herniated Disc?

The symptoms of a herniated disc may differ depending on where the issue is in your spine. The symptoms may get better when you take proper rest and get worse with every movement.

Slipped Or Herniated Disc In The Neck (Herniated Cervical Disc)

The symptoms of a herniated disc in the neck include:

  • Pain that occurs while stretching your shoulder, arms, and oftentimes to your fingers and hands.
  • Pain anywhere near or in-between your shoulder blades.
  • Pain that escalates when you are moving or bending your neck.
  • Pain in the neck region, especially on the sides and at the back of your neck area.
  • Tingling or numbness in your arms

Slipped Or Herniated Disc In The Back (Herniated Lumbar Disc)

It is very regular for people to face problems in the lower back section. The pain of herniated discs in the lower back region can also cause sciatic nerve issues. This excruciating pain usually goes down one side of your hip into your leg and even on your foot. Some other symptoms of a herniated disc in the back include:

  • Weakness in the muscles
  • Numbness or tingling feeling in your legs and/or your feet. 
  • Back pain

The Four Stages Of Disc Herniation

The four-disc herniation stages include disc compression, bulging disc, disc protrusion, and herniated disc.

Disc Compression

Putting extreme and repetitive strain, degenerative changes, and trauma can squash or compress the disc in your spinal cord, which becomes the reason behind the tearing of annular fibers that keep the disc in its place. The nucleus or the jelly-like center of the disc is irritated, but it still stays contained within the structure of the disc.

Bulging Disc 

Constant strain and loading on this body part lead the nucleus to shove the annular fibers more into a bulge, leading to inflammation that can aggravate the spinal nerves. The nucleus is still inside the annulus at this stage, but that is only because the outermost fibers are keeping it inside.   

Disc Protrusion

The soft and jelly-like substance containing the nucleus breakouts from the structure in-between the large tears in the annulus fibers, but is still attached, occurs the disc protruding and pushing on the exiting spinal nerve, which in several cases leads to an increase in pain and further symptoms such as raised numbness, tingling, or burning sensations.

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Herniated Disc

In a sequestrated or herniated disc, pieces from both the nucleus and annulus have shattered through the posterior longitudinal ligament into the epidural space. The pieces of both are now in the external part of the segment, squeezing most of the spinal nerve. This is the most dangerous stage where the pain levels are extreme and surgical intervention may be necessary. 

Are Herniated Discs A Common Problem? 

The leading cause of sciatica, i.e., pain in the back and leg region or arm and neck regions, is because of herniated discs. Every year, there is a rise in the number of people affected by a herniated disc. The number goes as high as 2% every year. A herniated disc can happen almost anywhere along the spinal cord, but the most common where herniated discs occur is in the neck or lower back areas. It is rare to see cases where a person suffers from a herniated disc in the mid-back area. 

Who Is Most Susceptible To This Kind Of Problem? 

Individuals between the ages of thirty to fifty years are most likely to face a herniated disc problem. The problem is more common in men in comparison to females. Nearly men face this problem twice compared to women. Other factors that can lead to herniated discs are:

  • Lifting heavy-weight objects.
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Sitting for an extended period of time in one position
  • Repetitive twisting or bending movements for sports, hobbies, or work.

When Should You Visit A Doctor?

At first, you can start the treatment at home, but you should go and schedule an appointment if you are feeling extreme pain and it is obstructing your life. Or

  • If the symptoms get worse
  • If the symptoms do not improve after 4 to 6 weeks
  • You are having trouble walking or standing. 
  • You develop a loss of bowel control or bladder.

At Realign Spine, we provide our patients with the best possible treatment for a herniated disc. Some of the best-slipped disc treatments include medication, physical therapy, spinal injections, and surgery. Our chiropractors are experts in treating patients only using physical therapy. Physical therapy teaches the patients how to maintain their posture and helps them relieve pressure, loosens tight muscles, and improves blood circulation.

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