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Spinal Disc Problems

Apr 16, 2015

The spine is one of the most important parts of your body because it holds up your head, shoulders, and torso. This important structure is made up of many crucial elements that allow you to move, and each one works together so that you can walk, bend, and twist. However, if there is disease or injury in any one of your spinal discs, the spine will not function properly.

Keep reading to learn more about the spinal cord, intervertebral discs, and the various issues that could occur.

Anatomy of the Spinal Cord and Intervertebral Discs

Your spine allows you to stand up, provides flexibility for bending, and protects the spinal cord located within the vertebral canal. The vertebrae are bones that are stacked on top of each other to create the vertebrae canal. Between the vertebrae are intervertebral discs that act as shock absorbers for the spine.

Disc Herniation

When a disc herniates, the soft, inner material of the disc called the nucleus, ruptures and leaks out of the disc. Sometimes this leakage touches the nerve root and causes inflammation and pain. Another symptom of a herniated disc is tingling that travels along the nerve. This can cause pain through the back of the leg or arm.

Call your physician if you’re dealing with any of these issues, and he or she will perform a physical examination and order imaging or electrical tests, if necessary. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your treatment could include physical therapy, medication, injections, or surgery.

Degenerative Disc Disease

As you age, your spinal discs begin to show signs of wear and tear from the constant shock absorption duty they perform. The fluid inside the disc may decrease, and the disc structure can be affected when small tears or cracks develop in the outer layer of the disc. Minor disc degeneration doesn’t typically show any symptoms, but in more severe cases, patients are unable to perform daily activities due to the pain and limited range of motion.

Patients will typically experience pain in the back that spread to the buttocks and upper thighs, as well as some tingling or numbness in the leg or foot. This pain usually increases while the patient is sitting, because the discs have more pressure on them.

If you’re dealing with these symptoms, talk to your doctor. He or she will perform a series of physical tests to check nerve function, muscle strength, and your level of pain with motion. Diagnostic tests such as a CT scan or an MRI may also be conducted to rule out other illnesses.

Treatment options include physical therapy, exercise, medication, and surgery in severe situations.


Discitis is when an infection, commonly bacterial but possibly viral, occurs in the discs of the spine. The discs do not contain a large blood supply, so the body does not have a good way to fight off this type of infection. The main symptom is severe back pain that remains in the center of the back rather than shooting down the leg or other areas of the body.

It’s important to contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms. The best way to diagnosis discitis is with an MRI scan to show the infection. Blood tests may also prove beneficial.

For more information about treating pain and injury to the spine and back, download our e-book, The Patient’s Manual to Spine and Back Surgery. This educational guide will provide you with all you need to know about dealing with back pain.