Intervertebral discs are circular ring-like flat structures that function as cushions between two spinal vertebrae, allowing spinal flexibility and acting as shock absorbers. Each intervertebral disc contains a nucleus (center) surrounded by a sack of fibrocartilage (fibrous, connective tissue), rich in collagens (fibrous protein). A herniated disc occurs when the outer sack partially ruptures and the interior of the sack expands, pushing part of the disc into the spinal canal near to where the spinal cord and other nerve roots are located. This causes either chronic or acute pain in the back or in the neck, and movement restriction of the affected area due to pressure exerted on the spinal nerve roots. This condition is also known as a slipped disc, an intervertebral disc hernia, a herniated intervertebral disc, and a herniated nucleus pulposus.
Intervertebral disc disease is among the most common causes of neck and back pain. Cervical disc herniations (in the neck region) are less common than lumbar (lower back) herniations. Lumbar disc herniations affect an estimated four out of five patients complaining of back pain. Several factors may contribute to a herniated disc, such as poor posture, work-related strain, traumatic injuries due to falls or blows in the back, improper weight lifting, obesity, and sport-related muscular strain. Disc herniation may also occur because of age-related degenerative processes that cause progressive loss of disc elasticity. Other risk factors associated with disc hernias are lack of regular physical exercises, inadequate nutrition, smoking, and genetic factors.
Herniated disc is a common problem, with approximately one in 32, or 8.4 million people in the United States affected each year.
Sandra Galeotti, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,