Disc Pain vs. Nerve Root Pain: Understanding the Two Types of Disc Problems

Back pain is an increasingly-common ailment in individuals of all ages. While many cases of back pain fade and heal on their own, others may cause long-term pain that makes everyday life difficult to manage. This type of pain is often caused by problems with the spinal discs.

Spinal discs are somewhat-elastic-feeling sections of the spine that sit between the vertebrae. They are composed of materials called annulus fibrosus on the outside and a soft, gel-like material called nucleus pulposus on the inside. These discs are pliable, allowing a range of motion to the spine and absorbing shock to increase comfort while moving.

Unfortunately, spinal discs are prone to injury due to the severe amount of stress placed on the lower back and neck, in particular. When a patient visits a doctor or chiropractor, they likely do not know the exact cause of their pain, but merely that it hurts in a specific area.

At Ideal Spine, we encourage our spinal experts to help patients understand the different ailments that may be affecting their spine and prescribe the best course of treatment for coping with them.

Disc problems come in two varieties

Despite the many names doctors may use to describe spinal disc pain, there are really only two major sources of pain related to spinal discs: disc degeneration and nerve root pain. These problems are most common in the cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (low back). It’s important for patients to be informed of the difference so they understand what is happening to their spine and what treatments may help fix it.

  1. Degenerative disc disease: Degenerative disc disease is categorized by the drying out and deterioration of spinal discs between the vertebrae. The discs begin to shrink in size and can tear on the outside, leaving less cushioning between the vertebrae. This can cause pain in the back or neck, as well as inflammation in the surrounding muscles and joints. Disc degeneration typically results in low levels of constant pain with occasional severe flare-ups.

Once diagnosed, a chiropractor may use spinal manipulations to help restore function and mobility in the affected joint. Massages, stretches and exercises can also help relieve tension in the surrounding muscles and strengthen them to better support the spine.

  1. Nerve root pain: Nerve root pain does not originate in the disc itself, but is often caused by a bulging or herniated disc. These conditions, which also may be called a slipped disc or pinched nerve, affect the nerves that sit close to the vertebrae and exit the spine. Often, pain will lead to numbness, tingling, or weakness along the path of the nerve, radiating out to the arms and legs.

A bulging disc occurs when the spinal disc slowly begins to protrude through a crevice in the spine, outside of where it typically should sit in between vertebrae. This “bulge” can irritate nearby nerve roots and cause inflammation and pain.

If a disc herniates, the firm outer material of the disc tears, allowing the gelatinous inner material from the disc to leak out and touch the nerve root, pinching it or causing inflammation.

Treatment for a bulging or herniated disc may include spinal manipulations as well as corrective exercises and manual therapy to lessen pain symptoms. These treatments may help move the disc away from the nerve and treat present inflammation.

Correct identification allows for total-body wellness

Disc problems are similar in their pain and symptoms. In fact, degenerative disc disease can weaken the spinal discs, leading to nerve root pain due to herniation. However, the conditions have different approaches and treatment methods that require a proper diagnosis.

Ideal Spine encourages Chiropractic BioPhysics (CBP), a specialized approach to patient wellness that treats the entire body. This ensures the source of disc pain is properly identified and dealt with. Call us today to learn more.

Chiropractic BioPhysics® corrective care trained Chiropractors are located throughout the United States and in several international locations. CBP providers have helped thousands of people throughout the world realign their spine back to health, and eliminate a source of chronic back pain, chronic neck pain, chronic headaches and migraines, fibromyalgia, and a wide range of other health conditions. If you are serious about your health and the health of your loved ones, contact a CBP trained provider today to see if you qualify for care. The exam and consultation are often FREE. See for providers in your area.

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1160 Taylor Street Suite 100
Meridian, ID 83642

Phone: 208-939-0301
Fax: 208-209-6009
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