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Spinal Disc Problem: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Observed on 16 October every year, World Spine Day focuses on raising awareness on spinal health and other spine disorders. The day is observed as a part of the Bone and Joint Decade Action Week and was launched by the World Federation of Chiropractic in 2012.

The theme for World Spine Day 2019 is Get Spine Active! The theme aims to shine a light on the opportunity people have in preventing back and neck pain by movement and exercise, one of the key focuses in international health promotion.


On this World Spine Day, let us look at the different types of problems that can affect your spinal disc.

What Are Spinal Disc Problems?

Excruciating pain in the back that restricts you from doing even the simplest of tasks? You may be suffering from spinal disc problems. Spinal discs are located between each bone of your spine act as a shock absorber for the spine.

Pain in your spinal disc is an indication or a warning signal that has to be given immediate medical attention, as spinal disc problems can be corrected with timely treatment [1] .


What Are The Complications Of Spinal disc Problems?

When you experience problems with one or more of your discs, it can negatively affect your day-to-day life as mentioned below [2] :

  • Impaired mobility
  • Muscle weakness
  • Inability to work
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle pain and weakness

What Are The Types Of Spinal Disc Problems?

The problems affecting your spinal disc are of different types and they are as follows [2] [3] :

  • Herniated disc:Also known as prolapsed, slipped or ruptured disc, it is one of the most common issues affecting your spinal disc. It is common in men and women ages 30 to 50, although they also occur in active children and young adults and occurs when the inner, gel-like material bulges out of a disc.
  • Pinched nerve:This type of spinal disc problem is caused as a result of a herniated disc. If you have a herniated disc in your lower spine, it can place pressure on your nerve root, which causes radiating pain shooting down the back of your leg [4] .
  • Sciatica:Similar to a pinched nerve, sciatica is not a medical condition itself, but instead, is the symptoms of another medical condition that affect your spinal disc such as degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis etc.
  • Degenerative disc disease:A condition that develops with age, degenerative disc disease is common and affects the majority of the population. The condition develops when the damage to your discs causes pain and is caused due to low blood supplies in your discs [5] .
  • Spinal stenosis:Located in the neck and lower back, spinal stenosis causes pain due to the pressure applied to the nerves that travel through the spine. People over the age of 50 are at greater risk of spinal stenosis, but younger people are prone to develop it as a result of congenital spinal deformities, genetic diseases affecting bone and muscle development or trauma [6] .
  • Bulging disc:This condition is often confused with that of herniated discs. However, bulging disc is when you have bulges along the rear and side portions of your discs, placing pressure on the nerve and causing pain.

What Are The Symptoms Of Spinal Disc Problems?

The signs of the conditions vary according to its location, and the specific symptoms about the different types of spinal disc problems.

The symptoms of a herniated disc vary from one person to the other and are as follows [7] :

  • Arm pain
  • Leg pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness

The symptoms of a pinched nerve are as follows [4] :

  • Feeling as though limbs (legs, feet or hands) have fallen asleep
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness in areas affected by the nerve
  • Pins and needles sensations in affected areas
  • Sharp, aching or burning pain radiating outward

The symptoms of sciatica are as follows, and you may experience one or more of the symptoms which can be infrequent and irritating or it can become constant and incapacitating depending on the location of the affected nerve [8] :

  • Constant pain on one side of your leg and buttock
  • Leg pain you might describe as burning, searing or tingling
  • Radiating pain travelling down the back of one leg
  • Sharp pain
  • Leg pain that is often more pronounced when sitting

The symptoms of degenerative disc disease are as follows [5] :

  • Pain worsening while sitting, bending, lifting or twisting
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Weakness in leg muscles
  • Relief from pain when walking or running, changing positions frequently or lying down
  • Periods of severe pain that last for days or even months

The symptoms of spinal stenosis vary according to the location of the narrowing. Hence, if you have cervical spinal stenosis occurring in the neck - the symptoms will be the following [9] :

  • No sense of balance
  • Pain in your neck
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control in severe cases
  • Difficult walking
  • Numbness and tingling of your hands, arms, feet or legs
  • Weakness in one of your hands, arms, feet or legs

Lower back spinal stenosis symptoms are as follows:

  • Back pain
  • Weakness in one or both of your feet and legs
  • Numbness or tingling in one of your feet or legs
  • Pain or cramping in one or both legs

The symptoms of the bulging disc are as follows [9] :

  • Heaviness
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Burning sensation
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Pain

Also, depending on the location of your bulging disc, you may experience these symptoms in different regions of your body.

What Are The Risk Factors Of Spinal Disc Problems?

  • Old age
  • Obesity/overweight
  • Diabetes
  • Physically demanding jobs [10]
  • Traumatic

What Are The Causes Of Spinal disc Problems?

The primary cause of herniated disc is ageing and can also be caused by lifting heavy objects, traumatic events, like falling or blows to the back.

Pinched nerves are caused when excessive pressure is placed on your nerves. It can also be caused by the following [7] [11] :

  • Injuries
  • Obesity
  • Certain illnesses, such as diabetes, thyroid disease or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Herniated disc problem
  • Bone spurs

The causes of sciatica are as follows:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Herniated discs in your lumbar region
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylolisthesis

Apart from the central cause of ageing, degenerative disc disease can be caused by the following [11] :

  • Poor posture
  • Frequent lifting
  • Obesity
  • Repetitive Bending
  • Sports accidents
  • Traumatic injuries

The causes of spinal stenosis are as follows [12] :

  • Herniated discs
  • Overgrowth of bones
  • Thickened ligaments
  • Tumours
  • Spinal injuries

The causes of bulging discs are as follows:

  • Ageing
  • Neck strain
  • Back strain
  • Injuries
  • Genetic factors

How Are Spinal disc Problems Diagnosed?

The doctor will begin by asking checking your specific symptoms. A physical examination will be conducted to check the movements of your spine and legs to check your muscle strength, flexibility and reflexes.

Consequently, specific your symptoms, the doctor will advise for imaging scans, such as X-ray, CT or MRI scans [13] .

What Are The Treatments For Spinal Disc Problems?

For herniated disc, there are a variety of non-surgical options available and they are as follows [14] :

  • Yoga
  • Hot and cold therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Acupuncture
  • Prescription medications, including narcotics, anticonvulsants and muscle relaxers
  • Steroid injections

Treatment options for pinched nerve are as follows [15] :

  • Physical therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Surgery (in some cases)
  • Corticosteroid injections

Treatment options for sciatica are as follows [16] :

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic manipulations
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Exercise
  • Hot and cold therapies
  • Massage therapy
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Prescription medications

Treatment options for degenerative disc disease are as follows [17] :

  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Hot and cold therapies
  • Manual manipulation or chiropractic care
  • Massage therapy
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Physical therapy

Treatment options for spinal stenosis are as follows [18] :

  • Hot and cold compresses
  • Physical Therapy
  • Over-the-counter and prescription medications
  • Steroid injections
  • Minimally invasive lumbar decompression procedures
  • Surgery (in some cases)

Treatment options for bulging disc are as follows [19] :

  • Chiropractic care
  • Hot and cold therapies
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • Spinal decompression therapy [20]
  • Steroid injections
  • Stretching exercises
  • Weight loss
  • Rest
View Article References  
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  2. [2]   Lozier, A. (2004). U.S. Patent No. 6,733,533. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  3. [3]   Lumb, D. (1974). U.S. Patent No. 3,785,368. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  4. [4]   Medel, G. A. (1983). U.S. Patent No. 4,402,686. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  5. [5]   Kleimeyer, J. P., Cheng, I., Alamin, T. F., Hu, S. S., Cha, T., Yanamadala, V., & Wood, K. B. (2018). Selective anterior lumbar interbody fusion for low back pain associated with degenerative disc disease versus nonsurgical management. Spine, 43(19), 1372-1380.
  6. [6]   Lurie, J., & Tomkins-Lane, C. (2016). Management of lumbar spinal stenosis. Bmj, 352, h6234.
  7. [7]   Lee, S. H., Lee, S. H., & Lim, K. T. (2016). Trans-sacral epiduroscopic laser decompression for symptomatic lumbar disc herniation: a preliminary case series. Photomedicine and laser surgery, 34(3), 121-129.
  8. [8]   Ropper, A. H., & Zafonte, R. D. (2015). Sciatica. New England Journal of Medicine, 372(13), 1240-1248.
  9. [9]   Munakomi, S., & Shrestha, P. (2017). sciatica [version 1; referees: 1 approved].
  10. [10]   Kachchhwaha, J., Garg, A., Kumawat, M., Gehlot, D., Singh, C., & Adlakha, M. K. (2017). ROLE OF MEDICINAL HERBS IN THE MANAGEMENT OF GRIDHRASI (SCIATICA): AN AYURVEDIC APPROACH.
  11. [11]   Feng, Y., Egan, B., & Wang, J. (2016). Genetic factors in intervertebral disc degeneration. Genes & diseases, 3(3), 178-185.
  12. [12]   Natarajan, R. N., & Andersson, G. B. (2017). Lumbar disc degeneration is an equally important risk factor as lumbar fusion for causing adjacent segment disc disease. Journal of Orthopaedic Research, 35(1), 123-130.
  13. [13]   Pennicooke, B., Moriguchi, Y., Hussain, I., Bonssar, L., & Härtl, R. (2016). Biological treatment approaches for degenerative disc disease: a review of clinical trials and future directions. Cureus, 8(11).
  14. [14]   Mattei, T. A., Beer, J., Teles, A. R., Rehman, A. A., Aldag, J., & Dinh, D. (2017). Clinical outcomes of total disc replacement versus anterior lumbar interbody fusion for surgical treatment of lumbar degenerative disc disease. Global spine journal, 7(5), 452-459.
  15. [15]   Smith, T., & Loprinzi, C. (2016). Scrambler therapy for treating neuropathic pain. Chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy, research, therapies, uncategorized.
  16. [16]   Pettine, K. A., Suzuki, R. K., Sand, T. T., & Murphy, M. B. (2017). Autologous bone marrow concentrate intradiscal injection for the treatment of degenerative disc disease with three-year follow-up. International orthopaedics, 41(10), 2097-2103.
  17. [17]   Zaina, F., Tomkins‐Lane, C., Carragee, E., & Negrini, S. (2016). Surgical versus non‐surgical treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1).
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  19. [19]   Dinger, F., & Frazier, A. (2018). U.S. Patent Application No. 15/955,815.
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Story first published: Wednesday, October 16, 2019, 15:15 [IST]
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