The intervertebral discs are little pads that lie between your vertebrae; each disc has a tough outer ring (annular fibrosis) and a soft gel-like center (nucleus pulposi). Your discs separate your vertebrae and, because they’re knitted into the bones, also join them together. They act like little shock absorbers, cushioning the bones so they don’t crash against each other as you walk, which would be very painful. The 23 discs in your spine help give it its curve, flexibility, strength, and length.
Disc Herniation, Protrusion & Prolapse
There are two types of herniations: protrusions and prolapses. A protrusion can occur if the nucleus pulposi bulges, pushing the annular fibrosis out of shape. A prolapse occurs if the nucleus bulges out so much that it actually separates from the rest of the disc. If the prolapsed disc goes into the spinal cord or puts pressure on nerves, it may cause severe pain that could make sitting, standing, walking, lifting, urinating, defecting, sneezing, coughing & moving nearly impossible. In extreme cases, foot or leg numbness or a loss of muscle control may occur. However, only a small number of those with low back pain have serious disc problems.
While spinal surgery is occasionally necessary, especially in cases of trauma or severe bone, disc and nerve destruction, the vast majority of people with low back pain and/or sciatica never need it.
Failed Back Surgery Syndrome
Of the thousands of surgical procedures done each year for ruptured discs, medical authorities admit that a large number are unnecessary and useless, with many of those who have back surgery in the same or worse pain after the operation. They have Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS). To make matters worse, if surgery is ineffective the first time, a second or third operation often does not help. Even successful operations could cause scar tissue, permanent spinal weakness, distortion and instability.