The Anatomy of a Herniated Disc
Think of your spine as a stack of boney blocks, and each block represents one of your spinal vertebra. Between each pair of vertebrae are the intervertebral discs. These discs connect one vertebra to the next.
Each disc has 2 parts, the annulus, and the nucleus pulposis.
The annulus is strong tough connective tissue that runs in a ring around the outside of each disc. It is connected to the vertebra above and the vertebra below the disc.
Inside of the disc, and held in place by the annulus, is the jelly like nucleus pulposis.
Like a Shock Absorber
Together they form a flexible structure similar to a jelly donut that acts like a shock absorber between each pair of vertebrae.
A healthy disc is a cushion that absorbs the force and pounding of everyday activities.
It also allows motion between the vertebrae so you can bend and twist the way you normally do.
When You are Young
When you are 16 years old all of your discs are strong and flexible.
However, as you age things begin to change.
Life is a series of insults to your spine, especially your lumbar spine.
Herniated Lumbar Disc Pinching a Nerve
Image thanks to Bruce Blaus, via Wikimedia Commons
Heavy Lifting and Occasional Minor Trauma,all add up over the years
Sometimes you may trip and fall, crash a bicycle, or lift more than you should. Each time something like this occurs you accumulate a little more damage to the discs in your spine.
Whenever you bend farther than is comfortable or force yourself into odd positions it puts additional stress and strain on the discs and increases the chance of injury at some point in the future.
If you have poor posture it puts additional force on certain parts of your disc. If you are taller than average you may find yourself constantly forced to bend or stoop adding to the problem.
All of these minor traumas to your spine can add together causing damage to the annulus of your discs.
Eventually it may start to weaken.
If it breaks and the nucleus is forced out of the center of the disc you have a herniated disc, also known as a ruptured disc or a slipped disc.