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Discs act like cushions and spacers between each vertebrae to keep them from rubbing together and to give the spine flexibility and mobility. Discs have a tough, fibrous, outer membrane, and a gel-like, elastic core. With injury, all or part of the core material can protrude through the outer membrane, pressing against surrounding nerves. If the membrane ruptures or tears, and the core disc material protrudes further, it can press on the spinal cord as well. The type of injury depends on the severity of the disc damage. Common disc injuries include a herniated disc, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, and a bulging disc.
A damaged disc puts pressure on the nerves and muscles around it. Symptoms of a disc injury include back pain and numbness, pain that extends to your arms or legs, and pain that worsens with certain movements.
Disc injuries are more common as you age; discs start to become more fragile as they lose their water content over time. Certain movements or trauma can also cause a disc injury, like twisting or lifting heavy objects.
Treatment for disc injuries can range from conservative to surgical, and depends on the severity of symptoms and the disc damage. Conservative treatment can include over-the-counter pain medication or physical therapy to help strengthen the back and surrounding muscles. When symptoms don’t respond to conservative treatment, surgical options may be considered. This may include a discectomy, in which the damaged part of the disc is removed, a disc replacement, or a laminectomy or fusion, which adds stability to the spinal cord.