Disc Pain Mechanisms, Anatomy, And Treatment

What Are Intervertebral Discs? 

Disc pain is one of the most common issues Chiropractors treat, but most of the time patients are unaware of what it means. We all know what the spine looks like – a stacked column of vertebrae that flexes, extends, side bends, and rotates. Between each vertebra sits a cushion of cartilage and protein known as the intervertebral disc. 

These act as shock absorbers for the spine. Discs absorb the impact of various movements and activities like running, bending, lifting, jumping, etc. They also absorb forces from sustained positions like sitting at a desk, or standing for long periods of time. 

Why They Can Cause Pain 

To get a little bit more specific about disc pain and disc anatomy, there is an outer portion of fibrous layers known as the annulus fibrosis and a soft, toothpaste-like inner portion called the nucleus pulposus. Disc Injuries can occur when this inner material is pushed or forced through the outer layers. 

When this happens, it can cause pain as well as place pressure on nearby nerve roots causing radiating pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling. These injuries can be due to reasons such as trauma, repetitive movements, poor loading strategies, or certain sustained positions. The classification of disc injury depends on the position of that nucleus material, how much “break through” of that material has occurred, and the condition of the outer fibers. While disc pain can be very painful, they are also usually one of the quicker recoveries as far as back injuries go. 

How Disc Pain Is Treated

Usually the treatment for disc issues involve specific exercises and loading the spine into its end range, as well as performing home exercises and temporarily avoiding certain positions. 

Although painful, surgery is often times unnecessary for disc pain. While there may be certain severe cases where it’s needed, conservative care is helpful a majority of the time. It is important to note that there is also evidence that when parts of the disc are surgically removed, it ends up causing accelerated arthritic changes to the area down the line. 

Important Points On Disc Pain

  • Discs don’t “slip”. It has been described to patients incorrectly for too long, and has contributing to a fragile view of the human body and spine. 
  • Disc findings on X-rays or MRI’s will not ALWAYS cause symptoms. In fact, most healthy adults have the above symptoms going on in our bodies and never even know it. 
  • The body is known to resorb disc material that has been pushed through the outer layers. This means that although it may be a painful issue, the body will often break down that material causing pain over time. 
  • See a professional if you are worried or experiencing pain. While I hope I have expressed here that disc issues are normal and common occurrences, you do want low back and radiating pain assessed by a Chiropractor or Physical Therapist. More often than not, low back pain, is fairly simple to treat. However, you do want to be sure of the cause, and have a professional rule out red flags, treat and monitor symptoms like weakness, numbness, and tingling, and help you modify home exercises and daily activities. 

If you think you or anyone you know are dealing with low back pain, we are more than happy to help at Ridge Rehab and Chiropractic. Schedule an appointment today at Ridge-rehab.com or by calling 847-796-0224.


1. Ju, K. (2020). “What’s a slipped disc?” Spine-Health. Retrieved January 2021 from https://www.spine-health.com/blog/what-s-slipped-disc

2. How does the spine work? (2019). Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Retrieved January 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279468/

3. Bridwell, K. “Intervertebral discs.” Spineuniverse. Retrieved January 2021 from https://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/intervertebral-discs

4. Roberts S, Evans H, Trivedi J, Menage J. (2006). Histology and pathology of the human intervertebral disc. J Bone Joint Surg Am. Suppl 2:10-4. 

5. McHugh, B. (2017). “What is degenerative disc disease?” Spine-Health. Retrieved January 2021 from spine-health.com/conditions/degenerative-disc-disease/what-degenerative-disc-disease

6. “Lumbar herniated disc: Should I have surgery?” University of Michigan – Michigan Medicine. Retrieved January 2021 from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aa6282

7. Herniated disk. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 2021 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/herniated-disk/symptoms-causes/syc-20354095

8. Williams, F.M.K., et al. (2007). Schmorl’s nodes: Common, highly heritable, and related to lumbar disc disease. Arthritis Care & Research. 57(5): 855-860.

9.Thanks to Chiropractic Success Academy

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