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The ABCs of Disc Pain: Annular Tears, Bulging Discs and Collapsed Discs

Your spine is the pillar of your body, supporting you as you move through life and housing your central nervous system.  Its structures are complex because it does a lot of heavy lifting.  But it’s subject to deterioration, especially in the discs.

Your spinal discs are crucial supports to your vertebrae.  They hold your vertebrae apart, preventing them from rubbing against one another.  When something goes wrong with one or more of these, you’ve got pain.

So, this post is about the ABCs of disc pain:  annular tears, bulging discs and collapsed discs.  We hope it proves a valuable resource toward understanding the importance of your spine’s shock absorbers more fully.

Degeneration in the discs is a normal part of aging but sometimes that degeneration can lead to pain which severely limits your ability to enjoy life.  Let’s look at some of the most common conditions affecting the intervertebral discs.

Annular Disc Tears

The discs consist of a nucleus, made of a gel-like substance which serves to cushion the vertebrae.  This substance is housed in a tough, fibrous shell.  When the shell is ruptured, this is an annular disc tear.

As early as our 30s, discs begin to display signs of deterioration.  When they deteriorate to a certain point, an annular tear can result.  High-impact activities (running), repetitive motion and sitting for prolonged periods make your discs more susceptible to this type of injury.

When left untreated, a disc herniation may result.

Bulging Discs

Bulging discs are directly related to the aging process.  When discs become dehydrated, they may change shape and “bulge”.  This process can result in nerve impingement and pain.

If nerve impingement occurs, pain may radiate.  If the disc is in the neck, the pain may extend down the shoulders to the elbows, wrists and hands.  If it’s in the lumbar region, pain radiates down the legs.  If the sciatic nerve is implicated, the pain will radiate down the back of one leg, as far as the feet.

Collapsed Discs

When the tough outer layer of the disc deteriorates to the point that it loses its shape, this is a collapsed disc.  Like the two conditions listed above, it may be due to the normal aging process, but may also indicate trauma from a previous injury.

As we move about during the day, the nucleus of the disc presses outward against its housing.  This causes the housing to lose elasticity.  As a result, the disc loses the height required to absorb shock between the vertebrae.

Collapsed discs can cause nerve root compression, with symptoms as severe as muscle spasms and loss of function.

While many people suffer no pain due to these conditions, when nerve compression or impingement occurs, pain results.  Sometimes, people are unaware that they have the listed conditions until they’re in pain.

If you’re experiencing pain which may indicate a condition of the spinal discs, it’s important that you consult your doctor to seek a diagnosis.  Contact the team at Central Texas Spine Institute.