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What is a herniated disc?

What is a herniated disc?

The spine or the vertebral column is made of small bones called the vertebrae aligned one over the other. There are about 33 such small bones in the spinal column; these bones are cushioned from one another by small discs called intervertebral discs. Each of these discs has two parts, an inner gel like part called nucleus pulposus embedded into a tougher outer fibrous part called the annulus. Slipped disc, disc herniation or rupture of the disc all are synonyms for the same condition which occurs when this inner part is forced out of its fibrous coat by pressure from the upper or lower vertebra. This nucleus pulposus then impinges on the nearby vertebral nerve causing severe pain. Disc slip usually occurs in the lower spine but can also occur in the cervical (neck region) or thoracic (chest region) part of the vertebral column.

Dr David Sparavec slipped discWhat causes a herniated disc?

Although a definitive cause for disc herniation has yet to be found and most cases are deemed idiopathic several causes are thought to lead to this condition:

  • Aging and degeneration: As we age the ability of our body to repair itself is reduced, this leads to accumulation of wear leading to increased chances of the pulposus to come out of the confines of the annulus.
  • Excessive weight: Obesity greatly increases the strain on the vertebral column leading to accelerated wear and tear of the fibrous part, this increases the chance of disc slip many folds.
  • Occupation: certain activities increase the likelihood of disc slip, if your work involves lifting heavy weights, sudden twists, bending and jerks then you are at greater risk.
  • Genetics: some people are genetically more prone to this predicament.

A sudden strain from improper lifting or from twisting violently: sometimes a sudden movement can lead the rupture of the annulus leading to protrusion of pulposus which then presses a nerve.

How can it be prevented?

Posture: proper posture is crucial for the prevention of this painful condition. It is an insidious process that happens over the course of many years basically due to bad posture, sit up straight, sleep on your side, invest in a good mattress and stand up with your shoulders thrown back, stomach tucked in and small of your back flat.

  • Weight: as excessive weight is one of the causes of disc slip, maintaining a healthy weight is very important specially if you are genetically predisposed or you have a family history of this condition.
  • Care when lifting heavy weights: never bend down at the waist to lift anything heavy, use your strong calf muscles instead to bear the load by bending at the knees and gently stand up.
  • Shoes: avoid wearing high heels; they align the spinal column into a position that predisposes it more to trauma, wear shoes that bear weight equally. While running wear shoes that absorb shock well.
  • Exercise: regular exercise which strengthens the back, stomach and calf muscles can prevent disc slip by providing better support.

Although these measures do not guarantee hundred percent that you cannot get this condition but they have been shown to prevent it.

For more information on this and for treatment please contact Osteopath Dr David Sparavec.



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