The human vertebrae are stacked one on top of the other but are separated by vertebral discs. There are thirty-three vertebrae in the backbone, with nine of them being fused to form the lumbar area of the sacrum and coccyx. The joints between the vertebrae help to provide a soft and sturdy cushion that allows the backbone to bend and shift without damaging the surrounding vertebrae. Maintaining proper joint function and health is essential for preventing back pain and injury. Unfortunately many people don’t realize how important their vertebral discs are. These discs can help or hurt you when it comes to back health. Vertebral discs are cartilaginous and are often referred to as joints.
Discs or joints are comprised of different layers and a few substances. The outer layer of the disc is called the annulus fibrosis. This layer acts as a shield for the inner layer called the nucleus pulposus. This collagen filled inner layer provides the most cushion for the vertebrae because it is soft and spongy. When spinal joints are unhealthy this can cause degeneration. A degenerative disc is very dangerous because this limits the protection offered to the vertebrae and can induce pain and nerve damage.
In the event that abnormal pressure is applied to the joint, the disc many begin to bulge and even become ruptured. This is what is described as a herniated disc. When the inner layer protrudes beyond the outer layer, herniation has occurred. The issue becomes greater if the protrusion begins to disrupt the surrounding nerves of the spinal column. Nerve roots are in close proximity to healthy vertebral joints. When there is a rupture, the part of the joint that is now in an inappropriate position, poses a great threat to the nerves. Any pushing of the spinal nerves and nerve roots can cause severe pain to the area. Nerves are directly related to body function and sensation. Nerves of the spinal column in particular are related to the legs and arms. Nerves that are irritated and disrupted can’t send the appropriate signals to the brain, and can cause immense pain to the back, legs and arms.
Some of the treatments for a herniated disc are less invasive than others. Typically a doctor may recommend NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help ease the pain and reduce inflammation. Physical therapy can also be used to relieve pain and increase muscle flexibility. Injections and surgical procedures are on the most invasive end of the treatment spectrum and should only be utilized if the pain is severe, intense and frequent.
A less traditional treatment is spinal decompression. Spinal decompression reverses herniation to a degree by effectively pushing the inner layer back within the outer layer. By doing this, there is less compression on the nerve roots thus relieving you of pain and numbness. This will not totally remove the herniated portion but will reduce it dramatically so that the chances of irritating a nerve become slim.