Spinal Disc Anatomy
The disc is made up of two parts the annulus fibrosus, a dense band of connective tissue that surrounds the nucleus pulposus, a soft gel like substance. A healthy disc will compress under force and decompress when the force is lessened. This compression and decompression is how discs receive their oxygen and nutrition to stay healthy. The change in force circulates fluid carrying the nutrients essential for disc maintenance. A good analogy for this is when a sponge is squeezed water comes out and when the pressure is lessened water sucks back in. This circulation of fluid is crucial for a healthy disc since they lack a good blood supply. When discs do not receive the proper nutrients, the disc can degenerate leading to arthritis, disc bulges, disc herniations, stenosis, and sciatica.
Disc Bulges and Herniations
Disc bulges and herniations are abnormal conditions of the spine that stem from disc degeneration. Disc degeneration is a process where the disc loses its hydration from a past trauma such as an injury or fall, or a repetitive occupational stress. As the disc loses hydration is becomes weak and the inner jelly like center can push into the outer part of the disc resulting in a bulge. After a period of time if not treated the nucleus pulposus, the inner jelly part, can rupture through the annulus fibrosus, the connective tissue band that surrounds it, resulting in inflammation and pain.
Symptoms of Disc Herniations
Signals from the brain may be interrupted due to nerve irritation. This can cause muscle weakness, usually of the ankle. Nerve irritation can be tested by examining the reflexes of the knee and ankle.
This is the medical word for abnormal sensations such as tingling, numbness, weakness or “pins and needles”. These symptoms may be the result of a herniated disc and may be experienced in the same regions as painful sensations.
Bowel or Bladder Problems
These symptoms are important because they may be a sign of Cauda Equina syndrome. This condition is possibly caused by a herniated disc. This is a medical emergency! You must see a medical doctor immediately if you have problems urinating, having bowel movements, or if you have numbness around your genitals. All of these symptoms are likely caused by irritation to one of the nerves as a result from a herniated disc.
Leg Pain / Sciatica
This pain is most commonly experienced at the outside of the thigh, the lower leg and/or the foot. Shooting pain that radiates down the leg is a common experience with herniated discs. Patients commonly report an electric shock type of symptom.
Treatment of Disc Injuries at Susquehanna Spine and Joint Center
At Susquehanna Spine, we have successfully treated many disc injury patients. On your first visit, Dr. Blake Staker will perform a detailed exam consisting of a case history and orthopedic tests to determine if a disc herniation is causing your symptoms. He may also refer you for x-rays or an MRI if he feels it is needed to further verify a disc is indeed causing your problem. If Dr. Staker determines treatment at SSJC is appropriate your treatment will start right away. Our focus is to increase the circulation of the disc using Spinal Decompression and Integrated Disc Therapy to increase the oxygen and nutrients to the disc to manage the inflammation allowing the disc to heal. Spinal stability exercises will then be used to strengthen the area around the disc.