Understanding the Type of Spinal Disc Problem You Have

Understanding the Type of Spinal Disc Problem You Have

The National Institutes of Health expects about 80% of people in the United States to experience one or more episodes of back or neck pain in their lifetime. And that pain is often related to disc problems.

Dr. Patrick Doherty and our team at Yale Neurosurgery New London offer outstanding diagnostic and treatment services for painful spinal conditions. Here’s what our nationally recognized experts say about disc disease and its treatment, starting with what type of disc problem you’re experiencing.

Understanding spinal discs

Discs are small rubbery structures that act as spacers and cushions between the spine's vertically stacked bones (vertebrae). Each disc has a soft gel-like center surrounded by a more rigid outer core that, when functioning normally, helps keep the spine stable and properly aligned.

However, a malfunctioning disc can lead to significant back pain or neck pain and decreased mobility that may cause considerable disability.

Common disc problems

Injury sustained during trauma can affect disc function. More often, however, disc problems are related to conditions or diseases that develop slowly over time.

Spinal discs, for instance, are vulnerable to age-related degenerative changes such as thinning, cracking, and drying that weakens the affected disc and interferes with its cushioning nature. Degenerative disc disease is often at the root of issues such as herniated or bulging discs.

Disc herniation occurs when inner disc material bulges or ruptures (herniates) through the outer structure. A herniated disc may cause pain at a specific place in your back. If the bulging disc material compresses nearby nerves, you may also experience pain radiating into your head, arms, or legs.

Nerve compression can also interfere with balance, muscle strength, coordination, and even bowel or bladder function. 

As spinal discs become thinner, the affected vertebrae can also rub against one another, causing bone damage that your body tries to overcome by building more bone. Unfortunately, this process can lead to bone spur (osteophyte) development at the edges of the vertebrae.

These small bumps of “new bone” may cause pain and other symptoms if they grow against nerves, cause spinal canal narrowing (stenosis), or interfere with spinal alignment.

Treating disc problems

Yale Neurosurgery New London offers comprehensive diagnostic and treatment services for disc problems that vary depending on your symptoms and level of disability.

Disc problems often respond exceptionally well to conservative measures such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and activity modification. However, should these treatments fail to relieve your symptoms adequately, Dr. Doherty may recommend steroid injections near the involved discs or nerves to decrease inflammation.

If pain and reduced mobility interfere with daily activities or decrease your quality of life, you may benefit from spine surgery. The highly advanced surgical techniques we offer include robotic surgery and other minimally invasive procedures that result in faster healing and less scarring than traditional surgery.

You don’t have to live with neck or back pain. Instead, schedule an evaluation with us today for outstanding care customized to fit your needs.

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