Experts estimate that sixty to eighty percent of the population will experience back pain at some point. Because the spinal column is rather complex, it can be difficult to know where symptoms actually originate. According to research, approximately 40 percent of back pain cases relate to spinal discs.
Spinal discs are the cushions that exist in between every set of vertebrae, or bones that make up the spinal column. Discs are one of several areas in the spine that are referred to as “pain generators,” structures in which abnormal physiological activity may occur, leading to pain. Studies indicate that there are three main categories of abnormal physiological activity that may occur in spinal discs. We’ll discuss them here.
Disc herniation is a classic type of injury in which damage stems from the outside. A herniated disc is one in which the internal gel-like substance that cushions the intervertebral space begins to lead out through tiny openings in the tough, fibrous shell of the disc. When the gelatinous fluid touches a spinal nerve root, pain ensues.
We say that a herniated disc stems from the outside because the leading cause of herniation is lifting heavy objects. The injury results from too much strain on a particular area of the spine, often the low back.
Another abnormality in the spine is referred to as internal disc disruption. This is different than degenerative disc disease in which discs wear down with age. In internal disc disruption, degeneration occurs in what is called the nucleus pulposus, the central area of the disc, not the fibrous outer shell. When internal disc disruption occurs, there are no obvious signs when a disc is observed, though forward and backward spinal movements cause pain.
Infection in any area of the spine may result in pain. Fortunately, this is a much less common occurrence compared to injury and disc degeneration. In most cases, it is easy to quickly rule out infection as the cause of back pain.
Treatment for back pain is determined by the identified cause. Our initial consultation with patients is very thorough, including an in-depth discussion of symptoms and relevant diagnostic testing. When possible, conservative, non-surgical therapies are recommended before we consider back surgery. If and when surgery is the best option for renewed quality of life, Dr. Albert provides full details on the recommended procedure and its potential outcome.