Lumbar (Low Back) Pain Collapsed Disc

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Is a Collapsed Disc to Blame for Your Low Back Pain?

Spinal discs positioned between each vertebrae in the spine act like a soft pillow to provide cushion and absorb shock from everyday movements. These pliable discs also prevent the bony ends of the vertebrae from coming into direct contact with one another. When one of these discs in the lumbar spine becomes worn out, as happens with a collapsed disc, low back pain can result.

Understanding Collapsed Discs as a Cause of Lumbar Spine Pain

To take a deeper look at what a collapsed disc is, and how it can contribute to low back pain, it’s helpful to gain a better understanding of the spine and the function of spinal discs. The spine is composed of many tiny bony structures, called vertebrae. These vertebrae are linked together, one on top of another, to form a long chain which surrounds and protects the spinal cord. Running through and around the spine are spinal nerve roots and spinal nerves. These nerves carry sensations and feeling throughout the low back and lower extremities.

Each bony vertebra in the spine is separated by an intervertebral disc. These round, flat discs are attached firmly to each end of the vertebra, and serve the main purpose of cushioning the bones and acting as shock absorbers from the activities of everyday life. The disc has two main components: a soft gel-like center surrounded by a solid, flexible outer wall. Healthy discs allow us to twist, bend, and move freely with no pain. When one of these discs becomes injured, in this case compressed, our comfortable range of motion becomes compromised and low back pain can result.

A healthy intervertebral disc is thick, pliable, and can be thought of as a pillow that provides cushion and stability between the bony spinal structures. When pressure is exerted on the spine (referred to as loading), the gel-like center of the discs squeezes outward against the flexible outer wall, and the wall is able to contain the gel and push it back into place, maintaining the height and shape of the disc. Over time, due to constant and repetitive loading, tiny tears may develop in the outer wall, weakening the disc and leaving it less able to bounce back. Eventually, the outer disc is unable to push the core material back into place, and it becomes so weak that it will collapse.
The main way a collapsed disc in the lumbar spine produces low back pain is by reducing the space available for the spinal nerves to pass freely through it. When the thick, healthy discs that once stood in between the vertebral bones become thin and ultimately collapse, the space between the vertebrae is minimized, and there is a greater likelihood of compression of the surrounding nerves.

In addition, the vertebral bones involved in collapsed disc are at greater risk of coming into direct contact with one another. In an attempt to compensate for the loss of volume between them, the body will manufacture small bony deposits, called bone spurs. The problem arises when the spurs become too large, and begin to squeeze or entrap the nerves that are passing through the spinal structures. They become compressed, resulting in numbness, tingling and weakness along the path of the nerve.
Although lumbar collapsed discs are relatively common in aging adults, and considered to be part of the aging process, it is important to discuss any lumbar pain symptoms with a spine specialist. He or she can help develop a treatment plan that’s right for you to banish the low back pain, correct the collapsed disc if necessary and recommend preventative measures to prevent future occurrences.

Tips for Preventing and Managing Low Back Pain at Home

  • Regular stretching and exercise can help prevent and ease low back pain.
  • When lifting heavy objects, use your legs for leverage, not your back.
  • Walk cautiously and wear shoes with good traction when walking on slippery surfaces.
  • When carrying something, be sure to distribute its weight evenly, not favoring one side.
  • Consult a spine specialist for severe low back pain that hasn’t resolved with conservative methods in a few weeks.

Health Tips

  • Always eat breakfast
  • Eat your fruit and veg
  • Take time to shop each week
  • Sit down at the table to eat
  • Get adequate rest daily.

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