‘Intervertebral discs’ have a hard outer connective-tissue (anulus fibrosus) and a ‘gelatinous’ interior (nucleus pulposus). At top and bottom are endplates, the transition tissues between disc and bone.
Discs have several important functions. They act as:
- shock absorbers for the vertebral column
- ligaments that tie the vertebra above & below the disc together
- spacers between vertebra to allow appropriate nerve-exit from the spine.
- Movement-enablers for vertebrae relative to each other allowing us to bend and twist
As we age discs tissues may begin to deteriorate and weaken showing progressive signs of disc disease. This weakening may eventually lead to herniation of one (or more) discs, which we colloquially call a “slipped disc”.
Disc herniation often occurs gradually but significant trauma can also lead to disc extrusion or sequestration. Disc-herniation stages are picture.
If a herniated disc contacts a nerve, this may result in significant nerve compression (occlusion) and pain in the lower back and down the nerve course. Compression may also lead to ‘radiculopathy’, i.e. pathological changes in nerve function resulting in one of several ‘neurological deficits’ including:
- sensory changes such as tingling, altered sensation or numbness,
- motor changes such as muscle weakness or reflex loss.
Any/all such symptoms, often referred to as sciatica, may be experienced by patients with a slipped disc.
MRIs (involving no radiation exposure) are the best scan for enabling physicians to see the soft spinal tissues unseen with conventional x-ray.
Things are however a little more complex than this. A study by Luoma et. Al. (2000) showed that many patients may have both low back pain and sciatica yet have no disc bulges. A further study by Livshits in 2011 showed that degeneration of the discs alone, whether or not a bulge was present, was highly associated with lower back pain and so it may be that the chemicals of inflammation released from degenerating disc tissue become a key factor in generating lower back pain, possibly sciatica. As discussed here previously, cleaning muscles of inflammatory infiltrate while lengthening them is key to tissue healing & remediation of symptoms.
Article Written + Submitted by:
Andreas Klein Nutritionist + Remedial Therapist from Beautiful Health + Wellness
P: 0418 166 269