Learn about the causes of Disc Problems & find a practitioner in Auckland, Hamilton, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin to help you overcome Disc Problems within New Zealand.
Discs act as cushions between the back bones (vertebrae) and these discs are susceptible to disease or injury causing pain in the back and legs. Disc problems include sciatica pain (a burst disc), disc prolapse (a slipped disc) and degenerative disc disease (wear and tear of the disc cartilage).
Causes of disc problems
The term 'disc' refers to the protective cartilage in between the spinal bones (vertebrae). These circular discs cushion the vertebrae when running, jumping or when pressure is placed down through the spine. The discs are made from a tough outer casing which contains a soft gel substance inside. The discs are susceptible to disease and injury which can result in disc and back problems.
The main causes of disc problems are listed below.
At a young age, the discs between the vertebrae are plump but with age they begin to soften as water content reduces. This results in the discs becoming thin and hard and growths known as bone spurs can develop around the disc. Some people develop these growths with no associated problems but for those who experience pain they have a condition called degenerative disc disease.
The term 'slipped disc' isn't entirely accurate as it suggests the cartilage has moved out of position and this is not the case. In medical terms, the problem is described as a 'ruptured disc' or 'herniated disc.
The discs are held in position by ligaments, muscles and the vertebrae. When a crack in the hard outer casing develops, the soft gel-like substance inside seeps out. What causes this crack to occur is not always clear but age is the most likely factor as the disc becomes less flexible and more prone to rupturing.
There are a number of factors which can place pressure on the spine which can cause a rupture in the disc. These include:
A ruptured disc typically occurs in the lower back.
The sciatic nerve runs from the spine, through the buttock and down the back of the leg. Whenever the body moves, the spinal cord has room to move up and down the spinal column however if a disc ruptures it can protrude into the spinal column and press against the cord and sciatic nerve. This restricts movement of the cord and causes pain through the lower back and leg.
Symptoms of disc problems
Some people can experience disc problems with little or no symptoms but for the majority they will experience pain in the lower back, legs and occasionally other parts of the body.
Pain can be acute (short and sharp) or chronic (dull and aching). There may also be some numbness and a tingling sensation which radiates down into the legs.
If the disc presses on other nerves in the spinal cord it can result in muscle paralysis, spasms or a loss of bladder control.
A condition called 'cauda equina syndrome' occurs when nerves at the base of the spinal cord become compressed. Symptoms of this condition include:
Cauda equina syndrome can permanently damage the bladder and bowel so it is important to seek medical treatment immediately.
Diagnosis of disc problems
A GP will make a diagnosis of disc problems based on your symptoms and medical history. The GP will perform a physical examination to test your reflexes, muscle strength, ability to walk and limb sensation.
The GP may refer you for further diagnostic tests to gain a better understanding of your condition. Tests include an MRI scan, a CT scan or a Myelogram (a dye injected into the spinal fluid which shows up on X-ray to show what pressure is on the spinal cord or nerves).