What Is a Herniated Disc?
The spine is made of bones called vertebrae and is separated into four regions: cervical (neck), thoracic (mid back), lumbar (lower back), and sacrum. Between each vertebra in the first three regions is a disc used to provide shock absorption and to increase range of motion in the spine. The discs are named by the two vertebral bodies that are located above and below the disc (e.g. the L2-3 disc is between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebral body). Each disc is made of two separate parts: the annulus fibrosis, a thick band of fibers, which surrounds the nucleus pulposus, a jelly-like middle. The disc material in your spine contains a lot of water, but dries out with excessive stress and from natural aging processes. The drying reduces flexibility and creates weakness in the disc, allowing the jelly-like material of the nucleus pulposus to protrude through the annulus fibrosis, becoming a herniated disc. Herniated discs mostly occur in the cervical and lumbar spine due to the higher mobility and flexibility of these regions, though they can occur in any of the regions. A disc herniation may occur towards the spinal cord, a thick band of nerve tissue that starts at the brain and moves through the spine, or off to the side, where nerves exit from the spinal cord and move into the arms, torso, and legs.
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