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As people age, the discs located between the vertebra of their spinal columns begins to deteriorate. These discs provide a layer of protective padding for the entire spinal cord by acting as shock absorbers. As people become older, cracks and tears on the discs’ outer layers known as annulus fibrosus allow the inner pulposus to leak out compressing the spinal cord and nerves. This nerve compression results in severe pain that radiates throughout the body.
There are four stages in the development of a herniated disc.
Disc degeneration refers to the weakening of the nucleus pulposus, which is associated with age. This is followed by prolapse, which refers to a bulge or protrusion of the nucleus pulpolus. The third stage, extrusion, takes place when the nucleus pulpolus breaks but is still in the disc. Sequestration is the last stage and results in the leaking of the nucleus pulpolus into the spinal canal causing nerve compression.
Lifting heavy objects without using the right lifting techniques can lead to a herniated disc. When people experience a herniated disc because of excessive strain, the affected disc is usually one on the lower back. However, mid back and neck discs can also become herniated because of excessive strain.
Accidents can lead to disc herniation, especially in the neck. Automobile accidents are known to be the greatest cause of herniated discs. When a car is hit from behind, the head and neck of its occupants may fly forward, which may lead to disc herniation.
Another cause of herniated discs is bad falls, especially if they involved significant twisting. Many people who engage in contact sports can also suffer herniated discs. More severe causes can make more than one disc to become herniated.
As people age, their discs also degenerate. The disc degeneration also weakens the ligaments holding the spinal discs in place. When the ligaments weaken, they loose the ability to hold the discs firmly in place, which may lead to herniated discs. Once the degeneration begins, minor strains and twists can lead to a herniated disc or even multiple herniated discs.
Some people are more vulnerable to herniated discs than others are. They may get a herniated disc from a simple fall, minor twist or strain. Genetics may be a cause of herniated discs in some people. Those with a family history of herniated discs may suffer from the condition even without significant trauma or advanced age.
Degenerative Disc Disease
This is one of the most common causes of herniated discs. This disease can lead to development of herniated discs at any age. However, it mostly affects middle aged and older individuals.
People suffering from degenerative disc disease have less blood being supplied to their spinal discs. Therefore, the discs cannot recover fully from minor injuries. Because the disease makes spinal discs unable to repair themselves, this can cause disc herniation.
This disease mostly causes herniated discs in the lower back although other discs can also be affected. People with degenerative disc disease can have multiple herniated discs over time.
• Sudden pain especially in the lower back. The pain may be burning, throbbing or shooting pains that travel to the legs.
• Increased pain when moving, bending or twisting. The pain may initiate spasms that make it difficult to sit, lie down or stand comfortably.
• Difficulty bending down or straightening the back.
• Tingling in the fingers, hands or feet. This may or may not be accompanied with pain in the back. The tingling may be occasional or chronic.
• Weakness in one or both legs. This may be a sign that pressure in the spinal cord is obstructing blood flow or impulses to the extremities.
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