An intervertebral disc (or intervertebral fibrocartilage) lies between adjacent vertebrae in the vertebral column. Each disc forms a fibrocartilaginous joint, to allow slight movement of the vertebrae, and acts as a ligament to hold the vertebrae together. Their role as shock absorbers in the spine is very crucial. As a disc degenerates, the soft inner gel in the disc can leak back into the spinal canal. This is known as disc herniation or prolapsed disc. The herniated disc material then puts pressure on the nerve, causing pain to radiate down the nerve leading to sciatica or leg pain (from a lumbar herniated disc).
How a lumbar disc herniates
A sturdy outer ring called the annulus protects the gel-like interior of each disc, known as the nucleus pulposus. Due to ageing and general wear and tear, the discs lose some of the fluid that makes them pliable and spongy. As a result, the discs tend to become flatter and stiffer. This process known as disc degeneration starts early in life, often showing up at a later age.
Lumbar disc prolapse is caused by the following factors:
- Age: The most common risk factor is being between the ages of 35 and 50.
- Gender: Men have roughly twice the risk compared with women.
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