The bones (vertebrae) that form the spine in the neck and back are cushioned by small discs. They are round and flat, with a tough fibrous outer layer called the annulus fibrosis. The annulus surrounds a soft jelly-like material positioned in the centre known as the nucleus pulposus. Discs are located between each of the vertebrae in the spinal column and primarily act as shock absorbers as well as provide flexibility for the spinal bones.
Over time, due to excessive strain or trauma, the annular fibres can weaken and tear, leaving the nucleus vulnerable to injury. A herniated disc is the term used to describe a fragment of the injured nucleus, pushing out into the spinal canal through a tear or rupture in the annulus. The canal has limited space, which further decreases in size for the nerve and the displaced disc fragment. Due to this displacement, the disc presses on surrounding nerves, often producing pain which may be severe
There are four stages of a herniated disc depending on the extent of displacement of the nucleus towards the outside annulus.
Excessive and repetitive strain, trauma or degenerative changes compresses or squashes the disc which in turn causes tearing of the annular fibres that hold the disc in place. The jelly-like centre of the disc (nucleus) is aggravated but remains contained within the disc structure.
Continuous loading and strain on this part of the body causes the nucleus to push the annular fibres further out into a bulge, causing inflammation that can irritate the spinal nerve. At this point the nucleus is still contained within the annulus but only because the outermost fibres are holding it in.
The soft jelly-like material comprising the nucleus escapes from the structure through the larger tears in the annular fibres but is still connected. Disc protruding now occurs, presses on the exiting spinal nerve which in most cases causes an increase in pain and other symptoms such as referred numbness, burning or tingling sensations.
In the case of a herniated or sequestrated disc, fragments from both the annulus and nucleus have broken through the posterior longitudinal ligament into the epidural space. The fragments are now outside the segment compressing most of the spinal nerve. This is the most serious stage whereby pain levels are severe and surgical intervention may be required.
At The Disc Doctor, we use Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression Therapy for patients who fall into any one of these four stages. The non-invasive Hill DT table gently pulls and releases the spine creating a negative pressure change that draws the displaced disc back into its proper position. This relieves pressure on the spinal nerves and hence decreases pain and other related symptoms.