Disc Degeneration Explained
Are you wondering what causes bulging, prolapsed, or herniated discs? Let’s clarify it in simple terms. Your spine has shock absorbers called vertebral discs, which have two main parts. The tough outer layer, called the annulus fibrosus, surrounds the inner gel-like part called the nucleus pulposus. Sometimes, a disc begins as a bulging disc, often due to the natural loss of moisture with age. When it becomes flat and bulges out of its normal place, it can weaken the annulus fibrosus, which might lead to a rupture.
Herniated discs can happen due to sudden injuries or trauma, but they often start as bulging discs. Herniated discs can be very painful because the annulus fibrosus has sensitive nerves, and the leaked nucleus pulposus contains substances that cause inflammation. In some cases, parts of a herniated disc can press against spinal nerve roots, making the discomfort worse.
Various forms of degenerative disc disease exist, with one type affecting the neck known as cervical degenerative disc disease, and another impacting the lower back referred to as lumbar degenerative disc disease. The increased mobility in the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine makes them prone to damage. Continuous movement over time leads to the gradual deterioration of the discs.
What is the cause of Bulging, Prolapsed and Herniated Disc ?
A disc prolapse may occur in any of the 24 vertebrae in the spine, but it’s most likely to happen in the lower back, specifically in the lumbar spine. Generally, the severity of symptoms increases with the size of the prolapse.
Cervical Disc Prolapse While disc prolapse is more prevalent in the lower back, it can also affect the 7 vertebrae in the neck. The levels C4 to C7 of the cervical spine are particularly susceptible to disc prolapse.
Lumbar Disc Prolapse Lumbar disc prolapses are the most widespread, also known as ruptured, herniated, or slipped discs. Typically, age-related spine deterioration causes this condition, making it more likely after the age of 35.
Thoracic Disc Prolapse Due to the limited mobility of the thoracic spine, disc prolapse here is uncommon. Symptoms vary based on the disc’s location, potentially affecting a nerve, nerve root, or the spinal cord. The disc can herniate centrally, laterally, or centro-laterally.
Several factors can lead to the nucleus pulposus protruding through a weakened outer fibrous ring of a disc. Actions like awkward bending, improper lifting mechanics, or even a simple sneeze can trigger a disc prolapse in individuals with a vulnerable disc.
Factors contributing to the development of a prolapsed disc comprise:
Trauma resulting in vertebral fractures.
Occupations involving frequent heavy lifting.
Sedentary jobs with prolonged sitting periods.
Participation in weight-bearing sports or exercises.
Obesity and Smoking.
Weakening of the spine due to the natural aging process.
Signs & Symptoms of Bulging, Prolapsed and Herniated Disc ?
The primary indicator of a herniated disc is pain. Even though the disc is in the back, the pain doesn’t always show up there. If the herniated disc is in the lower back, the pain is usually felt in the buttocks, thigh, and calf. Sometimes, it can even go down to the foot, causing a condition called sciatica.
But if the herniated disc is in the neck, the pain is typically in the shoulder and arm. Moving the neck can sometimes cause pain that goes down to the arms or legs because of spine movement.
The compressed nerve tissue leads to symptoms like:
Having pain that travels from your back to your leg.
Feeling lower back pain when you bend forward or make certain movements that stretch your spine.
Noticing that the pain gets worse after standing or sitting for a while.
Feeling tingling, aching, or burning sensations in the affected area.
Experiencing numbness and pain in the area where the nerve is affected.
Experiencing muscle weakness without a clear reason.
Feeling a sharp pain in one spot due to nerve compression.
Our Clinic provides care for Disc related pain sufferers in the local Westmead area as well as the surrounding suburbs of Parammata, Mayshill, Wentworthville, and Sevenhills.
Assessment for Bulging, Prolapsed, and Herniated Disc at Westmead
At Recovery Rehab Westmead, our physiotherapists follow a careful process to determine your condition and figure out where you’re experiencing discomfort. This process involves reviewing your medical history, and doing a physical examination to check your nerves, muscles, and how well you can move.
We also use special tests like X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans to get a close look at your injury, including your spine, bones, muscles, and soft tissues. After we’ve studied these test results and understand your situation well, we create a plan that’s just for you to help with your pain and find the right solution.
Physiotherapy Treatment for Bulging, Prolapsed and Herniated Disc at Westmead
Physiotherapy offers effective relief for herniated disc symptoms through techniques such as neural gliding, joint mobilization, and dry needling. Sujanya Iyengar, our Recovery Rehab Physiotherapist, guides you with exercises and positions to alleviate pain and prevent further damage, promoting faster recovery. In most cases, symptoms improve within a few weeks, as research suggests the disc regresses over time. Prioritizing activity during the acute phase, while avoiding pain aggravation, underscores the importance of early physiotherapy visits in disc repair and pain relief.
Following physiotherapy treatment, we will create a personalized exercise program tailored to your needs and lifestyle to enhance your posture and restore normal function. You’ll receive education on proper body mechanics, including lifting, bending, and work habits, to prevent injury recurrence.
Herniated discs are susceptible to re-injury due to factors like poor posture, muscular instability, and stressful activities. Therefore, it’s essential for patients to adhere to the rehabilitation program designed by our physiotherapists to safeguard against re-injury. This program focuses on regaining lumbar spine mobility and strengthening the supporting muscles.
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