Intervertebral discs are a spinal structure that is situated between two vertebrae and act as a cushion to absorb some of the shock that is directed at the spine. These intervertebral disks can become damaged due to aging, various physical stressors, or even a trauma that affects the back.
If you are wondering whether damaged discs can be repaired, it must most likely be because you wish to avoid invasive procedures such as a disc surgery or even a spinal fusion. It must be said that while some disc problems may be fixed in a natural way, others can only be managed.
Anatomy of the Spine and Spinal Discs
The spine is made out primarily of the spinal column, where bones called vertebrae are stacked upon one another, spinal discs that are situated in-between them to act as cushions and to prevent bone-on-bone-rubbing, facet joints that allow for movement, as well as the spinal cord that is situated in the spinal canal, and nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord.
As previously stated, spinal discs are structures that serve as cushions between two spinal bones called vertebrae. They consist of a soft, gel-like interior, called the disc nucleus, and a hard outer protective layer, called annulus fibrosus. The disc can become damaged and change shape, where it can protrude into the spinal canal and push against nerve roots, triggering sensations of pain.
Types of Spinal Disc Problems
Some of the most common problems that can affect intervertebral discs include:
- Bulging discs, where a disc changes shape and bulges sideways in any direction, sometimes into the spinal canal, potentially leading to spinal stenosis. In this condition, the outer shell has an altered shape but is intact and no part of the inner content has spilled out.
- A herniated disc, also referred to as a slipped disc or herniated disk, on the other hand, is characterised by the gel-like nucleus protruding outward through a crack in the outer shell. Sometimes, this protrusion can lean into the spinal canal or pinch a nerve. One of the nerves that is most commonly affected is the sciatic nerve, located in the lumbar spine (lower back), leading to sciatica.
- Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a disc problem that occurs due to the aging process that we all go through. With time, discs naturally lose some of their water content and can dry out. Intervertebral disc degeneration can lead to a loss of height in the spine and loss of some of the cushioning effects that it provided for the vertebrae.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
A damaged spinal disc doesn’t always cause symptoms, and many people are unaware that they suffer from a disc issue until it is in a severe state. When they do present symptoms, they can be similar to those produced by other spinal problems such as bone spurs, for example.
To correctly determine the cause of your symptoms, it is recommended that you seek medical advice and obtain a diagnosis. Most commonly, this process starts with a physical examination and taking a history, but it can sometimes include additional imaging tests, such as CT scans.
Can Discs Be Repaired?
In short, it depends. While a bulging or herniated disc may heal on its own, degenerative changes in the spine cannot be fixed as they are a natural process that comes with aging, and thus cannot be reversed.
Disc herniation or bulge can heal with adequate rest, and in some cases lifestyle modifications.
The symptoms that occur due to DDD, however, can be managed through a combination of spinal mobilisation through physical therapy and lifestyle changes.
While it may be helpful in the short term, pain medication (including anti-inflammatory drugs) can reduce pain temporarily while your back is allowed to rest and heal, but it is not an option to be considered long-term.
Herniated and bulging discs may take a few weeks or even months to heal on their own, and while this may be a lengthy process, there is a way to make it smoother, and to even enhance the benefits of recovery by strengthening your spine in order to prevent a return of the symptoms. To do this, use a spinal decompression device, such as the Backrack, to de-stress your spine, and allow your discs to have proper space to recover.