The spine's discs, or intervertebral discs, are a common cause of neck or back pain. Basically, each disc is comprised of 2 parts: a soft inner core (nucleus pulposus) and sturdy outer layer (annulus fibrosus).
Aging, wear and tear, and injury cause discs to weaken and makes them susceptible to disorders such as disc bulging and rupture (herniation). Even with proper back care, people cannot escape growing older. Normal aging causes disc structural changes on a cellular level. Discs become less hydrated (lose water content) and flatter, compromising disc strength and elasticity.
Cause and Effect: Symptoms
Whatever the reason, a change in disc structure may weaken the outer layer (annulus fibrosus) and cause it to bulge, crack, or tear. The pressure within the disc can cause the inner core (nucleus pulposus) to push through the annulus either causing the disc to bulge or rupture. Whether the disc bulges or ruptures, delicate spinal nerves are likely to be irritated, pinched, or trapped by invading disc material. Sometimes a disc bulges or herniates into the spinal canal and puts pressure on the spinal cord.
Most disc herniations (about 90%) happen in the low back ─ L4-L5 (lumbar levels 4 and 5) or at L5-S1 (lumbar level 5 and first sacral segment). Herniated discs are most common in people in their 30s and 40s.
When a spinal nerve is irritated, pinched, or trapped, pain and other symptoms develop. Pain is the most common complaint, but other symptoms such as numbness, tingling sensations, and weakness may travel (radiate) into the arms or legs. When a disc problem affects the neck, it is common for symptoms to be felt in the upper neck, shoulders, arms, and sometimes the hands. If a disc bulges, or herniates in the low back, symptoms can affect the buttocks and legs. Usually pain and other symptoms are one-sided, affecting either the left or right side of the body.
Laser Spine Surgery
Although many patients respond well to different types of non-surgical treatment, sometimes spine surgery is recommended. Instead of traditional open back surgery, many patients are candidates for Percutaneous Arthroscopic Discectomy, a minimally invasive laser spine surgical procedure. This laser assisted technique is performed as outpatient surgery, which means fewer risks, no hospital stay, and a speedier recovery.
The laser spine procedure removes part of the bulging or herniated disc. When the offending disc is made smaller or removed, nerve or spinal cord pressure is removed (called decompression). Depending on the level treated, neck or back pain is reduced, including extremity pain, tingling or numbness.
When the laser spine surgical procedure is complete, the patient is monitored for 1 to 2 hours before being released to go home. The patient is encouraged to walk the afternoon or evening of their procedure and returns the next day for post-operative follow-up and medical clearance to return home. Physical therapy and a home exercise program are recommended to build strength and flexibility. A regular exercise routine not only benefits long-term back health, but is a great way to stay healthy and in shape!