In order to understand herniated discs, you must first understand how your spine is built. Everyone's spine is made up of a stack of 24 (7 cervical or neck, 12 thoracic, and 5 lumbar) separate bones called vertebrae. We are not including the sacral or coccyx area of the spine.
Between each of the vertebrae is a rubbery cushion known as a disc. Your discs have a tough, flexible exterior and a very soft interior. Through postural wear and tear (bending the wrong way, lifting heavy objects improperly), trauma (sports injury), and other stresses, a disc may get compressed. If the compression is too much, the pressure can cause the outer layer to break or tear. This allows the jellylike substance inside the interior part to leak out between cracks in the exterior. This break can cause the disc to press on a spinal nerve, causing a great deal of pain. This is what is known as a herniated disc, sometimes called a slipped disc or ruptured disc.
Herniated discs can have a number of different causes. A few of the most common reasons a herniated disc occurs include:
- natural aging
- improper lifting of heavy objects
- doing a lot of regular lifting
- being overweight and/or sedentary
- car accidents
- sports injuries
When caused by aging, slipped discs are typically the result of gradual wear known as disc degradation. Your discs actually start to lose their water content and they become less flexible and resilient. This makes them more prone to tearing and other damage, even when you are just performing a simple activity.