The intervertebal discs separate the vertebral bodies of the spine. They serve as cushions, that help to absorb stress on the spine, and allow and restrict certain movements. The disc is composed of a thick outer layer, the annulus fibrosis, and a soft, gelatinous inner layer, the nucleus pulposis. Those areas which are most subject to disc rupture are those areas that move the most, the cervical and lumbar spine. Rupture of the disc can produce structural pain in the spine or can compress the nervous structures. When the spinal cord or nerves are affected, various degrees of weakness, numbness, tingling, bowel and bladder, and gait disturbances may occur.
Causes of Disk, Ruptured
The outer layer of the disc undergoes repeated trauma. Frequently, there are small tears in this layer. The soft inner material may bulge into these tears or pass through these tears and become lodged in the spinal canal. Symptoms from ruptured discs are caused by inflammation and mechanical compression. The chemical irritation is responsible for much of the pain that occurs. Steroids, which are very potent anti-inflammatory drugs, may help this type of pain. Mechanical compression often leads to dysfunction of the nerves or spinal cord. This most commonly produces varying degrees or loss of strength or sensation. Significant compression of the spinal cord or nerve may produce a condition that requires emergency intervention.
Signs and Symptoms of Disk, Ruptured
Ruptured discs in the low back, or lumbar spine, usually produce some degree of low back pain. If the nerves are compressed or irritated by the chemical inflammation produced by the ruptured disc, pain may radiate into the lower extremity. Further damage to the nerve may result in weakness, tingling or numbness. The spinal cord ends at about the bottom of the rib cage. The nerves that continue beyond are termed the cauda equina, or horse's main. Compression of the cauda equina can lead to loss of bowel and bladder function as well as lower extremity symptoms. Disc herniations in the neck usually produce pain in the back of the neck. This pain typically spreads to the back of the head and into the shoulder blades. Pain, numbness, weakness and tingling may develop in the arms. If the spinal cord is compressed, there may be generalized weakness, difficulty walking or problems with urinating. Disc herniations in the thoracic spine are much less common. The relative immobility of the thoracic spine, provided by its attachments to the ribs, produces this degree of stability. Disc herniations in the thoracic area may produce spine pain in the chest or pain that wraps around the chest or abdomen. Like the cervical spine, spinal cord involvement can lead to weakness and incoordination of the legs as well as problems with urinating
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Medical Content Last Updated on 07/12/2008
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