Lumbar Disc Pathology Explained & Common Myths

Have you heard of the terms “disc bulge” or “slipped disc” before but are not quite sure what it is? In this blog post, we will explain what lumbar discs are, and what these terms mean.

What are Lumbar Discs?

The word “lumbar” refers to your lower back, which is made up of five bones called vertebrae.

Between each vertebra is a disc. The disc is made up of a tough outer layer, called the annulus, and a gel-like centre, called the nucleus. Discs help with shock absorption and mobility.

Lumbar Disc Pathology

Lumbar disc pathology is an umbrella term for different issues that can occur to the lumbar discs. These can include:

Annular Tears: this refers to tears in the fibrous outer layer (annulus).

Degeneration: as we age, the water content of discs reduces, which can cause the discs to shorten, and the space between the vertebra to narrow. Cumulative tears in the annulus can also lead to degeneration. After 40 years of age, most people have some degree of disc degeneration, although they may not have any pain.

Disc Bulge: this occurs when the inner gel-like centre (nucleus) has moved within the annulus but does not move outside of the outer layer.  

Disc Herniation: occurs when the nucleus breaks through the outer layer. A good way to picture this is to think of a jam donut; the dough is the annulus (although the annulus is much stronger than soft dough!), and the jam is the nucleus. If the jam was to push through the dough and leak out, this would be similar to a disc herniation

Common Myths About Disc Injuries

Myth 1. Slipped discs: it is almost impossible for a disc to completely slip out from between the vertebrae, as they are firmly attached. When people say they have a “slipped disc”, they most likely mean that they have a disc bulge or herniation.

Myth 2. Surgery is the best option: surgery may be the best option in some circumstances, but there are non-invasive treatments that can help a disc injury such as manual therapy (osteopathy, physiotherapy, chiropractic treatment), and exercises to help manage the pain and strengthen your muscles to prevent it from occurring again.

Myth 3. Bed rest is the best treatment for disc injury: being completely immobile can make your condition worse. Regular gentle movement can help manage your pain and stretches and exercises are beneficial to strengthen your muscles.

Read our other blog post on symptoms, causes and treatment of disc injuries.