By printing and/or reading this article, you agree that you accept all terms and conditions of use, as specified online.

Disk Problems

The SpineIt can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, and chances are it has probably happened to you at some point in your life. Back pain can come on suddenly or creep up on you. (Read about "Back Pain") It might stay a while, or fade quickly. Sometimes it's serious, and other times it's just a minor ache. Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the United States, with headaches taking first place (Read about "Headaches"), according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, (NINDS). It probably won't surprise you to learn the lower back is where most back pain is felt. That's because the lower back is the area that supports the weight of your entire upper body. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) says Americans spend $50 billion dollars a year on low back pain.

Back basics

The back is stacked with 24 bones called vertebrae. (Read about "The Spine") The spinal cord and nerves travel through the spinal canal and communicate between the brain and muscles. (Read about "Nervous System" "The Brain") Disks sit between the vertebrae and act as shock absorbers. They are flat and round and have a tough outer ring and a jellylike center. When something goes wrong with a disk, pain is likely to follow. There are two main types of disk problems:

Degenerative disk disease

Degenerative disk disease, or DDD, is part of the aging process, according to AAOS. Disks typically have a high water content when we are young, but as we age, they tend to dry out and weaken. The disks begin to shrink and the spaces between the vertebrae narrow. As a result, nerve roots are compressed which can cause pain. Sometimes the disks may collapse and the facet joints start rubbing onto one another. This can result in pain and stiffness. AAOS says the wear and tear on the facet joints can lead to osteoarthritis. (Read about "Osteoarthritis")

Symptoms of degenerative disk disease can vary. Sometimes it may feel like a cramp or sore muscle, according to AAOS. Many will find that when they are lying down, they feel better. Other symptoms of DDD may include:

Unfortunately there is no known cause or cure for DDD, but there are ways to treat the pain. (See treatment below)

Herniated disks

If you've been diagnosed with a bulging, ruptured or slipped disk, then you have a herniated disk. A disk can rupture when part of the soft center pushes through the outer edge toward the spinal canal. According to AAOS, this puts pressure on the already sensitive spinal nerves. Once the jellylike nucleus of the disk breaks through the outer ring, the pain in the back subsides. The pain in the leg, however, increases according to AAOS. A lumbar herniated disk is one of the most common causes of low back pain as well as leg pain. Other low back pain symptoms associated with a lumbar herniated disk may include:

If the herniated disk is in the upper part of your spine or the cervical area, it can result in neck pain. AAOS says that when pressure is placed on a nerve in the neck, pain radiates between your neck and shoulder and sometimes down your arm. It can cause headaches in the back of the head as well as:

Back pain risks

AAOS reports that 60 to 80 percent of all people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. You can help prevent future problems by knowing some of the risk factors:


When pain is severe and doesn't seem to get any better, it's time to call in a physician. Diagnosing disk problems may involve some of the following, according to both AAOS and NINDS:

Testing may not reveal the cause of your back pain, and often the cause is never known, according to NINDS. However, even without knowing the cause, you can get relief.


Treatment for back pain is as vast as the many aches and pains themselves. NINDS lists seven different ways back pain is treated. Of course, it all depends on the severity of your pain. There are nonsurgical and surgical options. Here are just some of the options that NINDS lists:

Nonsurgical treatments

AAOS reports that nonsurgical treatments relieve symptoms of herniated disks in more than 90 percent of patients. The risks involved with non-surgical treatment are minor, according to AAOS. The only issue is that it may take a long time to feel any relief.

Surgical treatments

Surgery is only performed for the most chronic of back pains and when other treatments fail to work. NINDS says surgery may be recommended in severe cases of herniated disks. For example, when there is a leak of the jelly like center of the disk or when more than one disk is damaged.

Some surgical procedures include:

The risk of surgical complications is considered low, according to AAOS. Complications may include infection, nerve damage, a leak of spinal fluid, and hematoma.


Behavior changes are the key to better back health, according to NINDS. (Read about "Back Tips") Many of the factors that cause backaches are the very things we can modify. NINDS suggests the following:

In the case of back pain, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.

© Concept Communications Media Group LLC

Online health topics reviewed/modified in 2021 | Terms of Use/Privacy Policy

By printing and/or reading this article, you agree that you accept all terms and conditions of use, as specified online.