← Back to all articles

Causes of Back Pain - Intervertebral Discs

Causes of Back Pain - Intervertebral Discs

Intervertebral discs are soft, fibrous, and cushion-like structures that sit between each vertebra in the spinal column. They act as shock absorbers, absorbing and distributing the forces placed on the spine during movement and everyday activities such as walking, running, and lifting.

Each disc is made up of two main parts: an outer fibrous ring called the annulus fibrosus, and an inner gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus. The annulus fibrosus is made up of concentric rings of tough, fibrous tissue that provide strength and stability to the disc. The nucleus pulposus is a gel-like substance that contains water, collagen fibers, and proteoglycans, which give it its shock-absorbing properties.

The discs are connected to the vertebrae above and below by a series of ligaments and small joints called facet joints, which allow for movement and flexibility in the spine.

As people age, the discs can become degenerated and lose their ability to absorb shocks and stresses. There are several different ways that intervertebral discs can cause back pain:

  1. Disc Degeneration: Over time, the discs in the spine can wear down, leading to degeneration. This can cause the disc to become less flexible and more prone to injury. This can result in pain as the disc compresses the nerves in the spinal cord.

  2. Disc Herniation: A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner material of the disc protrudes through the outer layer, compressing nearby nerves. This can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the affected area.

  3. Disc Bulge: A disc bulge occurs when the outer layer of the disc weakens, causing the disc to bulge outward. This can compress nearby nerves, causing pain and discomfort.

  4. Disc Tear: A disc tear occurs when the outer layer of the disc becomes damaged, causing the inner material to leak out. This can irritate nearby nerves and cause pain.

  5. Disc Inflammation: Intervertebral disc inflammation, also known as discitis, is a condition in which the intervertebral discs become inflamed due to infection or injury. This inflammation can lead to pain and discomfort in the affected area, as well as other symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and loss of mobility.

    Discitis is often caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, which can enter the disc space through an opening in the skin or spread from an adjacent area, such as a bone or joint. The bacteria or fungus can cause an inflammatory response in the disc, leading to swelling and irritation of the surrounding tissues.

    Other causes of discitis may include trauma or injury to the spine, which can cause damage to the disc and lead to inflammation. Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause inflammation of the intervertebral discs.

    Symptoms of intervertebral disc inflammation may include pain in the affected area, which can be dull, sharp, or throbbing, and may worsen with movement. The pain may be accompanied by stiffness, swelling, and redness of the affected area. Some people may also experience fever, chills, and general fatigue.

  6. Pinched Nerve: A pinched nerve occurs when a disc or surrounding tissue compresses a nerve in the spine. This can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the affected area.

Treatment for intervertebral disc pain may involve rest, physical therapy like osteopathy, pain medications, and in some rare cases, surgery. The specific treatment plan will depend on the cause and severity of the pain.

In my experience disc problems respond well to osteopathic treatment, but sometimes take a bit longer to resolve than other causes of back pain.

Come and see me with your back pain problem at Osteostudio in Ashurst Wood, East Grinstead.

Cliff Russell, Registered Osteopath

You can follow my blog here or on Facebook.


Author: Cliff Russell - Registered Osteopath

person using megaphone