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Back Pain - Disc Herniation

Back Pain - Disc Herniation


A disc is a piece of soft tissue that serves as an interface between two vertebral bodies acting as a buffer and absorbing some of the energy produced by the movement of the spine. It separates two parts while allowing a limited amount of movement. The disc has a highly hydrated inner section called the nucleus pulposus and a tough, fibrous outer ring called the annulus fibrosis.

What is a Disc Herniation?

The intervertebral disc can degrade over time. The stages of degradation are:

  1. Degeneration
    Breakdown of the fibres in the outer annulus fibrosus causes shortening of the disc inhibiting its function.
  2. Prolapse
    Degeneration causing non-uniform thinning of the outer annulus fibrosus wall allowing the inner nucleus pulposus to push outward on the annulus fibrosus causing a bulge. This bulge can compress delicate nerve tissue resulting in pain and dysfunction in other body parts.
  3. Protrusion
    Part of the inner nucleus pulposus migrates beyond the annulus fibrosus through small cracks in the degenerated outer ring.
  4. Sequestration
    Part of the nucleus pulposus that has migrated beyond the annulus fibrosus breaks away and exists without any connection to the disc from which it originated.
Back Pain - Disc Herniation
Back Pain - Disc Herniation

What does a disc herniation feel like?

Disc herniation symptoms vary widely from no discomfort at all to mild local back pain to debilitating back pain. In some cases, a person with a disc herniation may also experience numbness, tingling, weakness and/or shooting pain in their arms or legs if the disc herniation involves the compression of the nerves or spinal cord.

What causes disc herniation?

Although many people will describe a sudden onset of severe back pain doing an everyday task such as putting shoes on, degenerative disc disease is a process that usually takes a long time through wear and tear. Disc herniations can also be caused by a sudden trauma such as a car accident or a fall from a height.

How is it treated?

Thankfully the majority of disc herniations do very well with conservative therapy such as mobility or movement exercises, stretching, exercises and massage techniques. These techniques are most frequently applied by physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and kinesiologists. Disc injuries can take a few weeks to a few years to improve depending on many factors.

In some more severe cases, surgery is required to remove the disc material that is contacting nerve tissue.

In any case, it is critically important to confirm the presence of a disc injury that is causing pain or other symptoms. The first step is to get evaluated by a physiotherapist or chiropractor to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment Locations

MSK Clinics Kitsilano


2880 West 4th ave. #101
Vancouver, BC  V6K 1R2

P: 604–224–7325

MSK Clinics Downtown


1033 Davie Street, Suite 410
Vancouver, BC  V6E 1M7

P: 604-689-9308

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305-4603 Kingsway
Metrotown Burnaby, BC V5H 4M4

P: 604–438–6106

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