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How do disc injuries cause back pain?

The spine is made of up to 26 vertebrae that are cushioned by discs, which are made from a soft, gelatinous inner portion and a tough outer ring. Spinal disc problems are common and can lead to symptoms of back pain and/or sciatica.

Disorders affecting the intervertebral discs include infection (discitis), degenerative disc disease (DDD), and disc herniation (prolapsed intervertebral disc). Annular tears, internal disc disruption, and resorption, disc space narrowing, disc fibrosis, and osteophyte formation can all occur in DDD. The vast majority of disk injuries occur in the lumbar region of the lower back and only 10% of these injuries affect the upper spine. Also, not all herniated disks press on nerves - some patients suffer from deformed discs without experiencing any pain or discomfort whatsoever. The exact source of acute back pain is often difficult to identify, as there are a number of possible pain producers, including:

  • blood vessels
  • joint capsules and cartilage
  • ligaments
  • muscles
  • soft connective tissue

It is important to remain active "as tolerated", performing your usual, but more controlled cardiovascular activities, such as walking. Activity keeps blood and nutrients flowing to the affected area, reducing muscular tension and inhibiting inflammation. Pain can be managed with:

  • medication: NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, opioids (narcotics)
  • physical therapy
  • chiropractic manipulation
  • ultrasound
  • electrical stimulation
  • traction
  • mobilization
  • spinal injections

Disclaimer: We do not assume responsibility for the use of the provided information or its interpretation. Our efforts are towards providing current and reliable information; however these should not be considered, or used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment.

Source: https://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Education/Medical-Library/