Disc Bulging & Herniation – Nerve And Spinal Cord Compression

Disc Injuries

Car accidents and heavy falls affecting the back are the most common causes of disc injury.

Four Major Levels Of The Spine

From top to bottom, the four major aspects of the spine are known as the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral levels.  At each level of the spine, the discs give the skeletal structures  flexibility, energy-absorbtion, as well as overall protection of the spinal cord.

The Skeletal Canal Protects The Spinal Cord

The spinal cord runs from the base of the brain known as the Medulla, down into  brain stem and then all the way through the skeletal canal. At each of the some 27 levels of the spine, the cord fans out laterally in both directions through openings in the spinal skeletal structure that surrounds and protects the cord. The nerve branches move outward into smaller nerve groups and then into a vast microscopic networks of nerves that travel through our entire body. So why are the discs so important?

Between Each Skeletal Level Contains A Disc

Discs are small cellulose cushions that sit between each level of the spinal canal. These bone structures and the discs between them surround and protect the spinal cord. Without the discs, the bones would crumble every time we used our back to do almost anything like bending and lifting. Consider the discs, like our cars shock system. It provides us with flexibility and spring.

Imagine a Oreo cookie. The middle white part is the disc and the layer on top and bottom of the white part is a layer of protective tissue. Compress the cookie too hard and the white filler extrudes outward. This is known as a bulge. If it ruptures through the protective tissue that surrounds the disc, it is called a herniation.

Disc Bulge and Herniation

When a back is subject to trauma, the disc can bulge or herniate into the spinal canal causing the cord to be compressed against the boney structures that surround it. When the bulge comes into contact with the cord and presses against the structural aspects of the bone the spinal cord can get compressed causing a serious risk of paralysis known as myelopathy which means “compression” of the spinal cord. This is very bad.

Should the disc impinge upon the nerve roots that fan out from the spine, the pathology is called ridiculer and can lead to nerve root damage which can also progress into paralysis.

Diagnosing The Injury And Its Implications

The nature and extent caused by the disc bulge or rupture can be measured by the severity of the symptoms it produces. Typically their is a loss of sensation, strength and function which can be detected by physical exam and by a nerve conduction study. Perhaps the best diagnostic modality is the MRI, since it presents a visual image of the disc in relationship to the cord itself. A disc rupture can cause serious injury and can render the person a paraplegic.

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