Your spine is made up of 33 vertebrae (bones) that are stacked on top of one another. Between each vertebra is a cushion-like piece of cartilage called an “intervertebral disk.” Imagine the disk as a tire, with gelatin filling the hole in the tire. The rubbery outer part is called the “annulus,” and the gelatin is called the “nucleus.” When we’re young, under 30 years of age, the disk is made mostly of gelatin. As we age, we start to lose some of that gelatin. The disk becomes flatter and less flexible, making it easier to injure. In some cases, the gelatin can push out through a crack in the rubbery exterior and lead to a herniation (bulge) or rupture (tear). The type and location of your symptoms depends on the location and the amount of pressure on the nerves:
- If you have a herniated disc in the cervical spine, you may have pain, tingling, numbness, weakness, or any combination of these symptoms in the arm, shoulder, or neck.
- If you have a herniated disk in the lumbar spine, you may have pain, tingling, numbness, weakness, or any combination of these symptoms in the back, buttocks, or legs; most likely, your symptoms will be on only one side of your body.
Your risk for developing a herniated disk increases due to:
- Age: most herniated disks occur in people who are 30 to 50 years of age. Obesity: increased weight results in increased pressure on the disks.
- Occupation: jobs that are physically demanding and involve repetitive tasks such as lifting, pushing, pulling, and twisting place additional stress on the disks.
- Low levels of physical activity: people who are not physically active are less able to handle physical demands.