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Herniated Disc

Back Clinic Herniated Disc Chiropractic Team. A herniated disc refers to a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (discs) between the individual bones (vertebrae) that stack up to make your spine.

A spinal disc has a soft center encased within a tougher exterior. Sometimes called a slipped disc or a ruptured disc, a herniated disc occurs when some of the soft centers push out through a tear in the tougher exterior.

A herniated disc can irritate the surrounding nerves which can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in an arm or leg. On the other hand, many people experience no symptoms from a herniated disk. Most people who have a herniated disc will not need surgery to correct the problem.


Most herniated disks occur in the lower back (lumbar spine), although they can also occur in the neck (cervical spine). Most common symptoms of a herniated disk:

Arm or leg pain: A herniated disk in the lower back, typically an individual will feel the most intense pain in the buttocks, thigh, and calf. It may also involve part of the foot. If the herniated disc is in the neck, the pain will typically be most intense in the shoulder and arm. This pain may shoot into the arm or leg when coughing, sneezing, or moving the spine into certain positions.

Numbness or tingling: A herniated disk can feel like numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves.

Weakness: Muscles served by the affected nerves tend to weaken. This may cause stumbling or impair the ability to lift or hold items.

Someone can have a herniated disc without knowing. Herniated discs sometimes show up on spinal images of people who have no symptoms of a disc problem. For answers to any questions you may have please call Dr. Jimenez at 915-850-0900

The Size of A Herniated Disc

The Size of A Herniated Disc

Herniated discs, although common, can be challenging to treat depending on the size. Over 3mm is considered a large herniated disc. However, it can progressively get more extensive, and this can cause severe side effects. The size can make the disc slip out of place and start compressing on surrounding nerves, leading to muscle weakness and nerve damage.

The Size of A Herniated Disc

X-Ray and MRI

X-rays can’t detect herniated discs, and this is because they highlight calcium in the bones. Because the vertebral discs and the nearby nerves lack calcium, they don’t show up. They do help doctors see other problems that could be causing symptoms like a tumor. A herniated disc will show on an MRI and identify the size and position. Then a medical professional can get a closer look into the bone and surrounding nerves.

Degenerative Disc Disease

A herniated disc is not the same as degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease is when the cartilage and tissues around the disc wear out and down, causing the discs to slowly slide out of their normal position. A herniated disc is the disc getting pulled/yanked out of place.


Specific tests will help a medical professional like a chiropractor understand the severity of a herniated disc. These include a nerve conduction study and electromyography.

Nerve Conduction Study

A nerve conduction study records electrical impulses in the nerves. Electrode patches are placed on various areas with varying electrical intensities to see different readings. Through the study, medical professionals are better able to understand the health of the nerves.


Electromyography is similar to nerve conduction but uses needles. Electrode patches are placed around the body; then, tiny needles are inserted into a surrounding muscle. The patches then record the reaction of the nerves.

Physical Therapy and Chiropractic Treatment

A herniated disc will usually heal without surgery in around six weeks. However, a herniated disc growing in size can take longer because of a treatment plan that has to be updated accordingly as the treatment progresses.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is very useful in working out herniated disc symptoms.

The therapy will slowly help the body recover by using equipment and stretching techniques to strengthen and restore flexibility. One technique is water therapy. Water helps relax the body, and the buoyancy prevents pressure build-up on the spine. This allows the body to stay flexible while avoiding strain and pressure on the herniated disc.


Chiropractors specialize in herniated discs. Chiropractic works on repairing the whole musculoskeletal system. Once imaging tests have been examined and a personalized treatment plan developed, they perform the necessary adjustments. These include:


This technique uses a segmented table that raises and lowers to release pressure on the spine. The movement also keeps the disc from touching the surrounding nerves, significantly reducing pain.

Pelvic block

The pelvic blocking adjustment utilizes cushions placed under the pelvis. As the chiropractor adjusts the spine, the cushions help to pull the disc back into place gradually.

Therapeutic Massage

Many chiropractors utilize massage therapy as it is highly beneficial for relieving pain and expedites recovery time. One recommended massage for herniated discs is deep tissue massage. The benefits include:

  • Relieving pressure around the nerves.
  • Reduces muscle spasms.
  • Improves the spine’s range of motion.
  • Releases the body’s natural painkillers.


Individuals are recommended not to overextend the spine. Avoid engaging in physical activities that require a lot of bending, twisting, reaching, etc. However, resting for too long can worsen the condition as the body needs movement to recover correctly. Too much rest can lead to the muscles contracting, leading to painful spasms. Safe activities include:


Herniated discs often result from an injury, but they could also be caused by weakened joints and muscles. If the body does not get enough calcium, magnesium, or vitamin C, the discs can slip out of place more easily. Taking supplements will help strengthen the area by assisting in the production of collagen. Collagen attaches itself around the discs, ensuring they stay in place and are protected. Foods rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin c will also help. Foods include:

  • Red peppers
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Lemons
  • Almonds
  • Milk
  • Healthy yogurt
  • Peas
  • Brussel sprouts


Hydrating the body with plenty of water can reduce pain. Water increases the fluid around a herniated disc. The fluid works as a cushion between the herniated disc and the surrounding nerves, helping to not press on them. Drinking water will also help with movement and sleep.

Body Composition

What Happens To The Body When Eating Fruit

At the basic macronutrient level, fruit is made up of simple sugar called fructose. The natural sugar the body gets from a piece of fruit is not the same as industrial fructose added to processed products like high fructose corn syrup. Processed foods are filled with empty calories and little to no nutrition. When the body takes in fruit, the liver processes fructose before getting absorbed through the small intestine.

Research shows that adding more fiber-rich foods like fruit increases gut ecology to an anti-obese condition. This happens by increasing the lean-type bacteria and reducing obese-type bacteria. Fruit can help boost healthy bacteria that can help prevent weight gain.

Essential nutrients from fruit include Folate, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B1. The USDA recommends 2 cups of fruit a day, depending on age. Making half of each meal fruit and vegetables can be an effective strategy for weight maintenance. Fruit provides the body with a carbohydrate energy source, and fruit sources can also help meet dietary balance needs and promote long-term weight maintenance.


Deniz Bayraktar, Arzu Guclu-Gunduz, Johan Lambeck, Gokhan Yazici, Sukru Aykol & Harun Demirci (2016) A comparison of water-based and land-based core stability exercises in patients with lumbar disc herniation: a pilot study, Disability, and Rehabilitation, 38:12, 1163-1171, DOI: 10.3109/09638288.2015.1075608

Gupta, Anmol et al. “Does Size Matter? An Analysis of the Effect of Lumbar Disc Herniation Size on the Success of Nonoperative Treatment.” Global spine journal vol. 10,7 (2020): 881-887. doi:10.1177/2192568219880822

Polkinghorn BS, Colloca CJ. Treatment of symptomatic lumbar disc herniation using activator methods chiropractic technique. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 1998 Mar-Apr;21(3):187-196. PMID: 9567239.

Sharma, Satya P et al. “Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity.” Nutrients vol. 8,10 633. 14 Oct. 2016, doi:10.3390/nu8100633

Bulging, Herniated Discs and Digestive Problems

Bulging, Herniated Discs and Digestive Problems

There are different possible causes of abdominal pain and digestive problems. Sometimes a bulging disc is the cause. A bulging disc that is causing abdominal pain is rare but possible. When this happens, it’s usually a herniated disc in the upper back, known as the thoracic spine. When the disc bulges to the side, it can cause abdominal pain. One study found that half of the patients presenting with herniated discs also suffered from digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome.

Bulging, Herniated Discs and Digestive Problems

Thoracic Disc Herniation

The thoracic spine is the region between the base of the neck and the low back. This section is surrounded and stabilized by the ribcage, reducing the risk of disc herniation. Most herniated disc/s occur in the low back or the neck because those areas with a lot of movement are less stable than the thoracic spine. But they do happen and can contribute and/or cause abdominal pain. This is usually accompanied by pain in the mid-back and the chest. Because this is rare, physicians don’t immediately think that a herniation is causing abdominal pain. This can lead to unnecessary and expensive tests to find the problem.

Lateral Disc Herniation

This is not the most common type of disc herniation. The type of herniation that causes pain in the abdomen is known as lateral disc herniation. This is when the disc bulges laterally/sideways. What happens is it can compress and irritate the nerve root. This is what can cause pain in the abdomen. Types of disc herniations include:


Most thoracic herniations are caused by trauma to the upper back. This can come from a:

  • Fall
  • Auto accident
  • Sports injury
  • They can also be caused by degenerative disc disease. If this happens, the discs can become calcified, which could require surgery.

Movements like reaching up to get something or twisting motions like putting on a seatbelt can cause the pain to worsen. Most thoracic herniations happen in young individuals brought on by trauma to the area. Women tend to be affected more by thoracic disc herniation that causes abdominal pain.

Herniated Disc and Bloating

Bloating often comes with digestive problems. A herniated discs can also cause bloating along with abdominal and back pain. However, they are not always related because bloating, and other digestive issues can cause back and abdominal pain. Bloating and pain typically go away after a bowel movement. But it is important to see a medical professional if the problem lasts more than a few days.

Gas and a Herniated Disc

In certain cases, a herniated disc can cause gas. This is rare, but evidence suggests that nerve compression in the spine can affect the digestive system. If back pain, abdominal pain, and digestive issues are presenting, seeking out treatment is recommended.


Chiropractors specialize in spinal care. The approach is to balance the entire body and heal the underlying issues. The nervous system travels through the spinal column. If injured or damaged, it can cause all kinds of issues. This includes abdominal pain and digestive problems. A chiropractor will:

  • Bring pain relief
  • Realign the spine
  • Balance the body
  • Recommend exercises and stretches
  • Offer nutritional recommendations
  • Recommend sleeping positions to prevent pain at night

They are different techniques to treat disc herniations. These include:

  • Full-body diagnosis
  • Detailed medical history
  • MRI, CT, or X-Rays
  • Laser therapy
  • Ultrasound
  • Ice and heat
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Massage
  • Physical therapy

Body Composition

Binge Eating

A common and powerful trigger of binge eating is restrictive dieting. This type of diet is a common weight-loss method for short-term goals. This is because a highly controlled program of calorie intake makes it easier to prevent overeating. The problem is that this type of restriction is not sustainable. Most individuals can avoid certain foods for only so long. However, this is not the only reason for binge eating. Many individuals use food as an emotional suppressor. They overeat during:

  • Levels of high stress
  • Boredom
  • Bouts of sadness
  • Exhaustion/excessively tired

The brain and body are conditioned to crave certain and usually addictive foods. When individuals want to get their minds off of something, cravings can activate and become overpowering. Although it is not an addiction to alcohol or drugs, food addiction is still an addiction. Working through addictive behavior toward any substance will improve the quality of life. Overcoming food addiction promotes physical health benefits and improved mental health. Recognizing addictive behaviors when it comes to food is the first step.


Al-Khawaja, Darweesh O et al. “Surgical treatment of far lateral lumbar disc herniation: a safe and simple approach.” Journal of spine surgery (Hong Kong) vol. 2,1 (2016): 21-4. doi:10.21037/jss.2016.01.05

Lara, F J Pérez et al. “Thoracic disk herniation, a not infrequent cause of chronic abdominal pain.” International surgery vol. 97,1 (2012): 27-33. doi:10.9738/CC98.1

Papadakos, Nikolaos et al. “Thoracic disc prolapse presenting with abdominal pain: case report and review of the literature.” Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England vol. 91,5 (2009): W4-6. doi:10.1308/147870809X401038

Polivy, J et al. “Food restriction and binge eating: a study of former prisoners of war.” Journal of abnormal psychology vol. 103,2 (1994): 409-11. doi:10.1037//0021-843x.103.2.409

Herniated Disc Pain Stretches and Exercises

Herniated Disc Pain Stretches and Exercises

Here are a few recommended stretches and exercises for relieving herniated disc symptoms. The vertebrae are the small bones that make up the spine. They have cushion discs between each one. These are the intervertebral discs and are the body’s shock absorbers. The discs can be thought of as small balloons that are filled with an elastic gel-type material. There are twenty-three of these cushions.

Functioning as the body’s shock absorbers transferring various forces, weight, and stress from vertebra to vertebra, so that no one is overburdened taking on all the impact the body goes through. But like any machine, the discs can wear down over time, and sustain injury. When this happens the cushioning gel can leak out and press on the nerve roots emerging from the spine. This type of injury is a herniated disc.11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 El Paso, TX. Herniated Disc Pain Stretches and Exercises

Herniated Disc Treatment

A herniated disc can lose its height because of fluid and water loss.

This loss affects the bone structures bringing them closer together affecting the ligaments that connect each segment. The ligaments become loose and do not provide the same stability. Ligaments cannot be strengthened with exercise making it more important to strengthen the muscles around the spine to make up for this stability loss. Depending on the severity of the injury, the displaced disc can cause pressure to build upon the nerves, resulting in pain and other discomforts. This comes from the loss of the disc’s cushion causing the vertebrae to rub against each other. Stretches and exercises designed for herniated discs can work in conjunction with conservative treatment to relieve the pain and discomfort.

Stretches and Exercises for Pain Relief

Consult a medical spine specialist/chiropractor before beginning a stretch and exercise regimen. This is because the herniation can become worse or additional injury/s can occur without proper instruction. Once the injury and clinical considerations have been addressed, gentle stretches and exercises can help reduce the pain and other symptoms. Strengthening the back and hamstring muscles reduces pressure on the spinal column helping to prevent pain and promotes healing by:

  • Increasing blood flow to the spine
  • Building strength to support the spinal muscles
  • Decreases stress on the spine
  • Helps relieve the pain
  • Improves abnormal postures and awkward body positions

Equipment is not necessary but there are few items that can help the process.

  • Yoga mat for hard floors
  • A resistance band, a towel will work
  • Yoga blocks
  • Stable upright chair
  • Stopwatch/Timer a phone timer will work

Cervical/Neck Stretches and Exercises

A herniated disc in the neck is usually caused by a forward head posture and a swayback or excessive curvature of the spine.

Isometric hold

  • Sit straight
  • Relax the shoulders
  • Place one hand on the forehead
  • Push head into the hand without moving the head
  • Hold for 5 to 15 seconds.
  • Repeat 15 times

Chin tuck

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface
  • Place arms at sides
  • Tuck the chin in and down toward the chest until a stretch is felt
  • Hold for 5 to 10 seconds
  • Repeat 15 to 20 times

Lumbar/Low Back Stretches and Exercises

Back flexion stretch

This stretch extends the back muscles to relieve low back pain.

  • Lie flat on your back
  • Pull the knees toward the chest and wrap your arms around the knees
  • Lift head straight up off the floor until there is a stretch across the mid and low back
  • Hold for 10 seconds
  • Repeat 5 to 10 times

Piriformis stretch

This stretches the small muscle in the buttocks helping to relieve low back pain and helps with sciatica.

  • Lie flat on your back on the floor or yoga mat
  • Bend the knees
  • Plant feet on the floor
  • Pick up one leg and rest the ankle on the other leg’s bent knee
  • Reach one arm through the leg and use both hands to grasp the bent leg
  • Pull the leg toward the chest until there is a stretch in the buttock
  • Hold for 30 seconds
  • Repeat on the other leg

11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 El Paso, TX. Herniated Disc Pain Stretches and Exercises

Prone extension stretch

This stretch helps reposition the disc back to its proper position, expediting the healing process. Start slowly and if pain presents, stop immediately.

  • Lie face down on the floor or yoga mat
  • Place the forearms on the floor next to the body
  • The elbows should be at a 45- degree angle
  • Slowly prop the body up, being sure to keep the hips on the floor
  • Keep pressing upward until the elbows are at a 90-degree angle
  • Hold the position for 10-15 seconds
  • Return to  starting position
  • Repeat the stretch 10 times
  • Gradually increase the upward position hold time until it can be maintained for 30 seconds


Performing these stretches and exercises or similar types will help with herniated injury recovery and prevent worsening or creating new injuries.

Body Composition

Benefits of yoga

Yoga benefits mental and physical health. Yoga helps improve individual physical health. Specific poses can help:

  • Improve balance
  • Flexibility
  • Build/Tone muscle
  • Prevent injury
  • Improve sense of well-being

Yoga stretches the muscles while relieving physical and emotional stress. Practicing yoga regularly can prevent obesity, and reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Yoga can help decrease leptin which is a hormone that helps control appetite. This is important for individuals going through chronic stress who are twice as likely to develop metabolic syndrome.


The information herein is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified health care professional. Our information scope is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, sensitive health issues, functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from a wide array of disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the musculoskeletal system’s injuries or disorders. Our videos, posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate to and support, directly or indirectly, our clinical scope of practice.* Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We provide copies of supporting research studies available to regulatory boards and the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation of how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900.

Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, CTG*
phone: 915-850-0900
Licensed in Texas & New Mexico


Court C, Mansour E, Bouthors C. Thoracic disc herniation: Surgical treatment, Orthopaedics & Traumatology: Surgery & Research, 104(1)S31-@40, 2018,

Recovering From A Deadlift Lower Back Injury

Recovering From A Deadlift Lower Back Injury

The deadlift is a weight training exercise that helps build muscle, strength, and stamina. It works legs, core, buttocks, and the back when performed correctly. Using an improper form or overdoing it can cause injury to the lower back. Recovering from a deadlifting injury usually takes a couple of days or a week. However, this depends on the severity of the injury. Recovery can be helped through:

  • Home remedies
  • Chiropractic treatment
  • Massage
  • Natural back pain relief tips

Back Injury After Deadlifting

Most individuals will feel sore after a strenuous workout. But there is a difference between soreness and injury. Most of the time injuries from deadlifts are caused by not using proper form. Getting the form right is not easy, it does take practice, so do not feel bad if an injury presents.

Soreness vs Injury

Most of the time telling the difference between natural soreness from a workout and pain from an injury is pretty straightforward. But sometimes it is not as easy to tell the difference. Soreness is typically characterized by:

  • Stiffness
  • Tightness
  • Muscle ache
  • Fades after two or three days

Muscle soreness tends to be shallow and spread out over a muscle group. Pain from an injury causes sharp and persistent pain, especially with certain movements. Injury pain is deeper and can be described as stabbing or sharp.

11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Recovering From A Deadlift Lower Back Injury

Common Deadlifting Injuries

The deadlift has a wide range of motion and incorporates several different joints. Most injuries sustained during a deadlift are low-back injuries. Usually a sprain or a strain. But it is possible to sustain a more serious injury like a herniated disc.

Sprains vs Strains

Sprains and strains are different although many use the terms interchangeably.

  • A sprain happens when the ligaments that hold a joint together tear.
  • A strain happens when the muscles tear or are overworked to the point of injury.

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc happens when the gel-like fluid cushion between the vertebrae begins to protrude out. This can cause pain from the disc pressing on surrounding nerves or go unnoticed. Fortunately, sprains, strains, and herniated discs can all be treated conservatively. Seeing a medical professional is recommended to rule out serious conditions.

Injury Lower Back Pop

Some individuals experience an audible pop in the spine during a deadlift. For those that experience a pop but no pain accompanying it, it is likely gas escaping from a joint in the back. Those that experience discomfort or pain with the popping are encouraged to seek out medical attention.

11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Recovering From A Deadlift Lower Back Injury

Healing a Back Injury

Healing a back injury depends on the severity. The more severe, the longer it will take to heal. Most injuries can be addressed at home. Individuals that cannot stand up straight or there is debilitating pain with normal movements should see a medical professional like a:

  • Physical therapist
  • Chiropractor
  • Physician

Rest and let the body recover

It can be tempting to get back to the gym as soon as possible, but this is not recommended until the back truly feels normal. It is recommended to rest for a few days, allowing any swelling, inflammation to go down.

Ice and heat

Applying ice to the back every few hours for 15 to 20 minutes is recommended for the first three days, then heat can be incorporated. After three days if there is still pain, incorporate heat to get more blood flowing in and around the area. Use the ice for 15 to 20 minutes, wait 30 minutes, then apply the heat for 15 minutes.


Seeing a chiropractor during any stage of recovery can be beneficial. As chiropractors are musculoskeletal specialists that can realign the body back to its proper form. If four days or more have passed and the pain is not going away, make an appointment with a certified chiropractor or spine specialist.

Time of Recovery

Most individuals recover within a week or two. For more severe injuries, like a herniated disc can take 6 to 8 weeks. Seeing a medical professional can help speed the process and promote healing. Additional tips include:


Deadlifting can be done safely and properly without sustaining an injury. A personal trainer or a sports chiropractor can analyze an individual’s lifting form and offer recommendations to prevent injury.

Body Composition

Foods Good for Collagen Production

Healthy nutrition can facilitate optimal collagen synthesis without supplementation. Protein sources that work with non-essential amino acids contribute to increased collagen production. High-quality protein sources support this process. Vegetarian protein sources include legumes or tofu are good alternatives. Collagen synthesis requires vitamin C, copper, and zinc.

  • Vitamin C regulates the synthesis pathway
  • Zinc stimulates the body to produce more collagen
  • Copper activates an enzyme that helps mature/strengthen the collagen
  • Sources of copper include nuts, seeds, whole grains, and chocolate

Most importantly is plenty of vitamin C-rich foods like:

  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Citrus fruits
  • Leafy greens
  • Tomatoes


The information herein is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified health care professional. Our information scope is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, sensitive health issues, functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from a wide array of disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the musculoskeletal system’s injuries or disorders. Our videos, posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate to and support, directly or indirectly, our clinical scope of practice.* Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We provide copies of supporting research studies available to regulatory boards and the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation of how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900.

phone: 915-850-0900
Licensed in Texas & New Mexico


Bengtsson, Victor et al. “Narrative review of injuries in powerlifting with special reference to their association to the squat, bench press and deadlift.” BMJ open sport & exercise medicine vol. 4,1 e000382. 17 Jul. 2018, doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000382

Core strength training helps manage back painJournal of Physical Therapy Science (March 2015) “Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain.”

Millions of Americans experience back pain each day: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020) “Acute Low Back Pain.”

Free weights come with a greater risk of injury, compared to machines: National Strength and Conditioning Association (December 2000) “Roundtable Discussion: Machines Versus Free Weights.”

Chiropractic Posterior Adjustments for Bulging Discs

Chiropractic Posterior Adjustments for Bulging Discs

Bulging discs usually present in the lower back. Chiropractic studies have shown that the L4 and L5 segments are more susceptible to stressors that enable and cause the discs to bulge.  
11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Chiropractic Posterior Adjustments for Bulging Discs
These vertebrae shift and become compressed with stress and time. The bulge eventually reaches a point that causes symptoms that include:
  • Pain
  • Limited range of motion
  • Mobility issues
Bulging discs are a common ailment that chiropractors specialize in treating and is one of the most common reasons individuals seek treatment. There is a surprise when individuals learn that spinal adjustments are only part of the solution for relief from bulging discs. Once a chiropractor realigns the vertebrae back into place, the individual must put in the work of preventing any re-bulging.  
11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Chiropractic Posterior Adjustments for Bulging Discs
Once relief has been attained individuals can become hesitant when a chiropractor informs them of the need for posterior chain strengthening. Posterior chain adjustments along with strength exercises are very important for the prevention of further bulging discs and overall optimal spine health. Restoring the lower back’s curvature and maintaining alignment requires strengthening the support system. Part of the chiropractic experience is educating patients on how to best maintain their spines.  

Posterior chain Identification

A bulging low back disc is more than low back pain. A chiropractor will help an individual identify the posterior chain stimulus that is causing their bulging discs. An example to identify the posterior chain root that is causing the pain, a chiropractor will have an individual perform certain movements to figure out where along the chain the problems are occurring. It could be a weakness in the gluteal muscles or if the chiropractor asks the individual to touch their toes from a standing position and they are unable could show inflexibility.  

Chiropractic Adjustments

Bulging discs begin with proper chiropractic adjusting and re-alignment. Palpitation along with radiological imaging will allow a chiropractor to determine which lumbar disc/s is bulging and to what extent. This will determine the treatment protocol that the chiropractor will take. It can include drop table adjustments that will help shift any misaligned vertebrae, and traction to alleviate compression and inflammation. Depending on age, the severity of the bulge, and the cause of the condition, a combination of adjustment techniques could be utilized.  


Once the pain has been addressed, a chiropractor will recommend exercises and stretches to strengthen the posterior chain and its support system. The disc/s that are bulging will be able to realign properly while any further bulges can be avoided. Strengthening is focused on the:
  • Gluteal muscles
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Hip flexors
  • Low back
Core strengthening will increase the strength of these muscle groups. This means enhanced support for the entire spine promoting the spine’s ability to handle stressors and avoid bulging. Individuals have found benefits from yoga or a specific stretching regimen of the posterior chain. This helps reduce stress in overused/worked muscles that improve flexibility and mobility support systems.  
11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Chiropractic Posterior Adjustments for Bulging Discs

Bulging disc relief

Bulging discs should not be ignored. If left untreated it could lead to more severe complications. To prevent recurring bulges along with low back pain, an individual needs to strengthen the posterior chain. Strengthening, and stretching are all crucial to the chiropractic adjustment process. A customized chiropractic treatment plan will ensure every individual gets the proper support their body needs.

Herniated Disc Treatment


Dr. Alex Jimenez�s Blog Post Disclaimer

The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, and sensitive health issues and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate and support directly or indirectly our clinical scope of practice.* Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We also make copies of supporting research studies available to the board and or the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation as to how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900. The provider(s) Licensed in Texas& New Mexico*
Djuric, N et al. �Lumbar disc extrusions reduce faster than bulging discs due to an active role of macrophages in sciatica.��Acta neurochirurgica�vol. 162,1 (2020): 79-85. doi:10.1007/s00701-019-04117-7
Finding the Right Spinal Surgeon Asking the Right Questions

Finding the Right Spinal Surgeon Asking the Right Questions

Finding the right surgeon that specializes in an individual’s specific spinal conditions and physical health means doing some research. There are several types of procedures for spinal problems. The type of surgery depends on the condition and an individual’s medical history. If surgery is recommended for a lumbar herniated disc or LHD combined with sciatica here are a few things to think about.  
11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Finding the Right Spinal Surgeon Asking the Right Questions

Researching a spine surgeon

First and foremost look for surgeons with:
  • Medical credentials like are they board-certified or board-eligible
  • Completed a fellowship in spine surgery
  • Devotes at least 50% of their practice to spinal conditions
  • Specializes in treating herniated disc/s and sciatica. This means they will have added/specialized knowledge and expertise.
It is extremely important that an individual feels comfortable and feels they are able to communicate freely with the surgeon. A professionally qualified surgeon should:
  • Spend adequate time with the individual
  • Answer all questions
  • Provide all information needed about the condition and treatment
  • Listen to what the individual has to say
  • Is open-minded
  • Is not hard to get in contact with
  • Has experience in the latest methods and techniques

What to look at and think about

Individuals can feel uncomfortable asking questions, but thorough communication is key. Remember, it is your body, and it is your right to know the details of the spinal disorder, along with non-surgical and surgical approaches to treatment that are available. There is time to consider the options and make an informed decision about the treatment plan as most spinal procedures are elective. Ask the surgeon all the questions you have to help decide wisely and with confidence. Make sure they address all concerns, and any others not listed.

The surgeon’s specialization/focus

Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons perform spinal procedures. Each will have a specific interest and expertise in certain spinal condition/s. For example, some surgeons may specialize in treating adult or pediatric patients, and some may only treat either lumbar/low back or cervical/neck conditions. Within those groups, some focus on:
  • Spinal deformities
  • Tumors
  • Myelopathy a spinal cord disease
  • Specific spinal cord diseases

Minimal invasive surgery option

Minimally invasive spine involves tiny incisions, that reduces the recovery time needed to heal. With this type, individuals can be up and walking within hours after surgery. Unfortunately, not all conditions can take this approach.

Is the surgery absolutely necessary, or can it be treated non-surgically?

Sciatica and herniated discs can be quite painful and cause disability. Never rush into surgery just to relieve symptoms. As surgery can cause other types of pain symptoms and issues. Herniation and sciatica can be resolved with:
  • Chiropractic
  • Physical therapy
  • Medications
  • Injections
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Diet adjustments
  • Regular exercise
  • Weight loss
However, if there are neurologic symptoms, like weakness in the leg, foot, numbness, or loss of bladder or bowel control – this is considered a medical emergency – then surgery is absolutely needed.  
11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Finding the Right Spinal Surgeon Asking the Right Questions

The number of similar procedures performed

The surgeon�s experience is very important. The more experienced, the better. Ask if they can refer to other patients who have had similar procedures.

Recovery time

Every patient is unique, as is the type of surgery, and recovery times. They all vary accordingly. General health, physical condition, and the severity of the disorder play a role in how long and how involved recovery time will be. Experienced surgeons can provide more specific answers concerning recovery/healing time.

Complication rate

All surgeries carry some risk of complication. Complication rates that are more than 10% is a red flag. Possible post-surgery complications.

Infection rate

Surgeons should have an infection rate lower than 10%. However higher rates do not always mean that surgeon is at fault as higher rates can come from performing highly complex procedures. Another reason for high infection rates could be the patients themselves like smokers or individuals with diabetes have increased risks for infection. However, do not feel uncomfortable asking the surgeon to explain a high infection rate.

Decide to not opt for spine surgery

As a surgeon produces a diagnosis, they should present a recommended treatment plan, including alternative treatments/therapies. Ask for another explanation of any part of the evaluation, diagnosis, or available treatment options.

Get a second opinion

A second opinion should be encouraged. A second opinion can reinforce the surgeon�s recommendations and offers a new perspective. The surgeon should be comfortable with a second opinion. This does not mean that the individual does not trust the surgeon. It does mean that there is considerable interest in achieving optimal health and making sure that surgery is the absolute right thing to do. Pass on surgeons that discourage or disapprove of second opinions and continue looking.

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The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, and sensitive health issues and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate and support directly or indirectly our clinical scope of practice.* Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We also make copies of supporting research studies available to the board and or the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation as to how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900. The provider(s) Licensed in Texas& New Mexico*
What is Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)?: An Overview

What is Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)?: An Overview

Degenerative Disc Disease is a general term for a condition in which the damaged intervertebral disc causes chronic pain, which could be either low back pain in the lumbar spine or neck pain in the cervical spine. It is not a �disease� per se, but actually a breakdown of an intervertebral disc of the spine. The intervertebral disc is a structure that has a lot of attention being focused on recently, due to its clinical implications. The pathological changes that can occur in disc degeneration include fibrosis, narrowing, and disc desiccation. Various anatomical defects can also occur in the intervertebral disc such as sclerosis of the endplates, fissuring and mucinous degeneration of the annulus, and the formation of osteophytes.


Low back pain and neck pain are major epidemiological problems, which are thought to be related to degenerative changes in the disk. Back pain is the second leading cause of the visit to the clinician in the USA. It is estimated that about 80% of US adults suffer from low back pain at least once during their lifetime. (Modic, Michael T., and Jeffrey S. Ross) Therefore, a thorough understanding of degenerative disc disease is needed for managing this common condition.


Anatomy of Related Structures


Anatomy of the Spine


The spine is the main structure, which maintains the posture and gives rise to various problems with disease processes. The spine is composed of seven cervical vertebrae, twelve thoracic vertebrae, five lumbar vertebrae, and fused sacral and coccygeal vertebrae. The stability of the spine is maintained by three columns.


The anterior column is formed by anterior longitudinal ligament and the anterior part of the vertebral body. The middle column is formed by the posterior part of the vertebral body and the posterior longitudinal ligament. The posterior column consists of a posterior body arch that has transverse processes, laminae, facets, and spinous processes. (�Degenerative Disk Disease: Background, Anatomy, Pathophysiology�)


Anatomy of the Intervertebral Disc


Intervertebral disc lies between two adjacent vertebral bodies in the vertebral column. About one-quarter of the total length of the spinal column is formed by intervertebral discs. This disc forms a fibrocartilaginous joint, also called a symphysis joint. It allows a slight movement in the vertebrae and holds the vertebrae together. Intervertebral disc is characterized by its tension resisting and compression resisting qualities. An intervertebral disc is composed of mainly three parts; inner gelatinous nucleus pulposus, outer annulus fibrosus, and cartilage endplates that are located superiorly and inferiorly at the junction of vertebral bodies.


Nucleus pulposus is the inner part that is gelatinous. It consists of proteoglycan and water gel held together by type II Collagen and elastin fibers arranged loosely and irregularly. Aggrecan is the major proteoglycan found in the nucleus pulposus. It comprises approximately 70% of the nucleus pulposus and nearly 25% of the annulus fibrosus. It can retain water and provides the osmotic properties, which are needed to resist compression and act as a shock absorber. This high amount of aggrecan in a normal disc allows the tissue to support compressions without collapsing and the loads are distributed equally to annulus fibrosus and vertebral body during movements of the spine. (Wheater, Paul R, et al.)


The outer part is called annulus fibrosus, which has abundant type I collagen fibers arranged as a circular layer. The collagen fibers run in an oblique fashion between lamellae of the annulus in alternating directions giving it the ability to resist tensile strength. Circumferential ligaments reinforce the annulus fibrosus peripherally. On the anterior aspect, a thick ligament further reinforces annulus fibrosus and a thinner ligament reinforces the posterior side. (Choi, Yong-Soo)


Usually, there is one disc between every pair of vertebrae except between atlas and axis, which are first and second cervical vertebrae in the body. These discs can move about 6? in all the axes of movement and rotation around each axis. But this freedom of movement varies between different parts of the vertebral column. The cervical vertebrae have the greatest range of movement because the intervertebral discs are larger and there is a wide concave lower and convex upper vertebral body surfaces. They also have transversely aligned facet joints. Thoracic vertebrae have the minimum range of movement in flexion, extension, and rotation, but have free lateral flexion as they are attached to the rib cage. The lumbar vertebrae have good flexion and extension, again, because their intervertebral discs are large and spinous processes are posteriorly located. However, lateral lumbar rotation is limited because the facet joints are located sagittally. (�Degenerative Disk Disease: Background, Anatomy, Pathophysiology�)


Blood Supply


The intervertebral disc is one of the largest avascular structures in the body with capillaries terminating at the endplates. The tissues derive nutrients from vessels in the subchondral bone which lie adjacent to the hyaline cartilage at the endplate. These nutrients such as oxygen and glucose are carried to the intervertebral disc through simple diffusion. (�Intervertebral Disc � Spine � Orthobullets.Com�)


Nerve Supply


Sensory innervation of intervertebral discs is complex and varies according to the location in the spinal column. Sensory transmission is thought to be mediated by substance P, calcitonin, VIP, and CPON. Sinu vertebral nerve, which arises from the dorsal root ganglion, innervates the superficial fibers of the annulus. Nerve fibers don�t extend beyond the superficial fibers.


Lumbar intervertebral discs are additionally supplied on the posterolateral aspect with branches from ventral primary rami and from the grey rami communicantes near their junction with the ventral primary rami. The lateral aspects of the discs are supplied by branches from rami communicantes. Some of the rami communicantes may cross the intervertebral discs and become embedded in the connective tissue, which lies deep to the origin of the psoas. (Palmgren, Tove, et al.)


The cervical intervertebral discs are additionally supplied on the lateral aspect by branches of the vertebral nerve. The cervical sinu vertebral nerves were also found to be having an upward course in the vertebral canal supplying the disc at their point of entry and the one above. (BOGDUK, NIKOLAI, et al.)


Pathophysiology of Degenerative Disc Disease


Approximately 25% of people before the age of 40 years show disc degenerative changes at some level. Over 40 years of age, MRI evidence shows changes in more than 60% of people. (Suthar, Pokhraj) Therefore, it is important to study the degenerative process of the intervertebral discs as it has been found to degenerate faster than any other connective tissue in the body, leading to back and neck pain. The changes in three intervertebral discs are associated with changes in the vertebral body and joints suggesting a progressive and dynamic process.


Degeneration Phase


The degenerative process of the intervertebral discs has been divided into three stages, according to Kirkaldy-Willis and Bernard, called ��degenerative cascade��. These stages can overlap and can occur over the course of decades. However, identifying these stages clinically is not possible due to the overlap of symptoms and signs.


Stage 1 (Degeneration Phase)


This stage is characterized by degeneration. There are histological changes, which show circumferential tears and fissures in the annulus fibrosus. These circumferential tears may turn into radial tears and because the annulus pulposus is well innervated, these tears can cause back pain or neck pain, which is localized and with painful movements. Due to repeated trauma in the discs, endplates can separate leading to disruption of the blood supply to the disc and therefore, depriving it of its nutrient supply and removal of waste. The annulus may contain micro-fractures in the collagen fibrils, which can be seen on electron microscopy and an MRI scan may reveal desiccation, bulging of the disc, and a high-intensity zone in the annulus. Facet joints may show a synovial reaction and it may cause severe pain with associated synovitis and inability to move the joint in the zygapophyseal joints. These changes may not necessarily occur in every person. (Gupta, Vijay Kumar, et al.)


The nucleus pulposus is also involved in this process as its water imbibing capacity is reduced due to the accumulation of biochemically changed proteoglycans. These changes are brought on mainly by two enzymes called matrix metalloproteinase-3 (MMP-3) and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 (TIMP-1). (Bhatnagar, Sushma, and Maynak Gupta) Their imbalance leads to the destruction of proteoglycans. The reduced capacity to absorb water leads to a reduction of hydrostatic pressure in the nucleus pulposus and causes the annular lamellae to buckle. This can increase the mobility of that segment resulting in shear stress to the annular wall. All these changes can lead to a process called annular delamination and fissuring in the annulus fibrosus. These are two separate pathological processes and both can lead to pain, local tenderness, hypomobility, contracted muscles, painful joint movements. However, the neurological examination at this stage is usually normal.


Stage 2 (Phase of Instability)


The stage of dysfunction is followed by a stage of instability, which may result from the progressive deterioration of the mechanical integrity of the joint complex. There may be several changes encountered at this stage, including disc disruption and resorption, which can lead to a loss of disc space height. Multiple annular tears may also occur at this stage with concurrent changes in the zagopophyseal joints. They may include degeneration of the cartilage and facet capsular laxity leading to subluxation. These biomechanical changes result in instability of the affected segment.


The symptoms seen in this phase are similar to those seen in the dysfunction phase such as �giving way� of the back, pain when standing for prolonged periods, and a �catch� in the back with movements. They are accompanied by signs such as abnormal movements in the joints during palpation and observing that the spine sways or shifts to a side after standing erect for sometime after flexion. (Gupta, Vijay Kumar et al.)


Stage 3 (Re-Stabilization Phase)


In this third and final stage, the progressive degeneration leads to disc space narrowing with fibrosis and osteophyte formation and transdiscal bridging. The pain arising from these changes is severe compared to the previous two stages, but these can vary between individuals. This disc space narrowing can have several implications on the spine. This can cause the intervertebral canal to narrow in the superior-inferior direction with the approximation of the adjacent pedicles. Longitudinal ligaments, which support the vertebral column, may also become deficient in some areas leading to laxity and spinal instability. The spinal movements can cause the ligamentum flavum to bulge and can cause superior aricular process subluxation. This ultimately leads to a reduction of diameter in the anteroposterior direction of the intervertebral space and stenosis of upper nerve root canals.


Formation of osteophytes and hypertrophy of facets can occur due to the alteration in axial load on the spine and vertebral bodies. These can form on both superior and inferior articular processes and osteophytes can protrude to the intervertebral canal while the hypertrophied facets can protrude to the central canal. Osteophytes are thought to be made from the proliferation of articular cartilage at the periosteum after which they undergo endochondral calcification and ossification. The osteophytes are also formed due to the changes in oxygen tension and due to changes in fluid pressure in addition to load distribution defects. The osteophytes and periarticular fibrosis can result in stiff joints. The articular processes may also orient in an oblique direction causing retrospondylolisthesis leading to the narrowing of the intervertebral canal, nerve root canal, and the spinal canal. (KIRKALDY-WILLIS, W H et al.)


All of these changes lead to low back pain, which decreases with severity. Other symptoms like reduced movement, muscle tenderness, stiffness, and scoliosis can occur. The synovial stem cells and macrophages are involved in this process by releasing growth factors and extracellular matrix molecules, which act as mediators. The release of cytokines has been found to be associated with every stage and may have therapeutic implications in future treatment development.


Etiology of the Risk Factors of Degenerative Disc Disease


Aging and Degeneration


It is difficult to differentiate aging from degenerative changes. Pearce et al have suggested that aging and degeneration is representing successive stages within a single process that occur in all individuals but at different rates. Disc degeneration, however, occurs most often at a faster rate than aging. Therefore, it is encountered even in patients of working age.


There appears to be a relationship between aging and degeneration, but no distinct cause has yet been established. Many studies have been conducted regarding nutrition, cell death, and accumulation of degraded matrix products and the failure of the nucleus. The water content of the intervertebral disc decreases with the increasing age. Nucleus pulposus can get fissures that can extend into the annulus fibrosus. The start of this process is termed chondrosis inter vertebralis, which can mark the beginning of the degenerative destruction of the intervertebral disc, the endplates, and the vertebral bodies. This process causes complex changes in the molecular composition of the disc and has biomechanical and clinical sequelae that can often result in substantial impairment in the affected individual.


The cell concentration in the annulus decreases with increasing age. This is mainly because the cells in the disc are subjected to senescence and they lose the ability to proliferate. Other related causes of age-specific degeneration of intervertebral discs include cell loss, reduced nutrition, post-translational modification of matrix proteins, accumulation of products of degraded matrix molecules, and fatigue failure of the matrix. Decreasing nutrition to the central disc, which allows the accumulation of cell waste products and degraded matrix molecules seems to be the most important change out of all these changes. This impairs nutrition and causes a fall in the pH level, which can further compromise cell function and may lead to cell death. Increased catabolism and decreased anabolism of senescent cells may promote degeneration. (Buckwalter, Joseph A.) According to one study, there were more senescence cells in the nucleus pulposus compared to annulus fibrosus and herniated discs had a higher chance of cell senescence.� (Roberts, S. et al.)


When the aging process goes on for some time, the concentrations of chondroitin 4 sulfate and chondroitin 5 sulfate, which is strongly hydrophilic, gets decreased while the keratin sulfate to chondroitin sulfate ratio gets increased. Keratan sulfate is mildly hydrophilic and it also has a minor tendency to form stable aggregates with hyaluronic acid. As aggrecan is fragmented, and its molecular weight and numbers are decreased, the viscosity and hydrophilicity of the nucleus pulposus decrease. Degenerative changes to the intervertebral discs are accelerated by the reduced hydrostatic pressure of the nucleus pulposus and the decreased supply of nutrients by diffusion. When the water content of the extracellular matrix is decreased, intervertebral disc height will also be decreased. The resistance of the disc to an axial load will also be reduced. Because the axial load is then transferred directly to the annulus fibrosus, annulus clefts can get torn easily.


All these mechanisms lead to structural changes seen in degenerative disc disease. Due to the reduced water content in the annulus fibrosus and associated loss of compliance, the axial load can get redistributed to the posterior aspect of facets instead of the normal anterior and middle part of facets. This can cause facet arthritis, hypertrophy of the adjacent vertebral bodies, and bony spurs or bony overgrowths, known as osteophytes, as a result of degenerative discs. (Choi, Yong-Soo)


Genetics and Degeneration


The genetic component has been found to be a dominant factor in degenerative disc disease. Twin studies, and studies involving mice, have shown that genes play a role in disc degeneration. (Boyd, Lawrence M., et al.) Genes that code for collagen I, IX, and XI, interleukin 1, aggrecan, vitamin D receptor, matrix metalloproteinase 3 (MMP � 3), and other proteins are among the genes that are suggested to be involved in degenerative disc disease. Polymorphisms in 5 A and 6 A alleles occurring in the promoter region of genes that regulate MMP 3 production are found to be a major factor for the increased lumbar disc degeneration in the elderly population. Interactions among these various genes contribute significantly to intervertebral disc degeneration disease as a whole.


Nutrition and Degeneration


Disc degeneration is also believed to occur due to the failure of nutritional supply to the intervertebral disc cells. Apart from the normal aging process, the nutritional deficiency of the disc cells is adversely affected by endplate calcification, smoking, and the overall nutritional status. Nutritional deficiency can lead to the formation of lactic acid together with the associated low oxygen pressure. The resulting low pH can affect the ability of disc cells to form and maintain the extracellular matrix of the discs and causes intervertebral disc degeneration. The degenerated discs lack the ability to respond normally to the external force and may lead to disruptions even from the slightest back strain. (Taher, Fadi, et al.)


Growth factors stimulate the chondrocytes and fibroblasts to produce more amount of extracellular matrix. It also inhibits the synthesis of matrix metalloproteinases. Example of these growth factors includes transforming growth factor, insulin-like growth factor, and basic fibroblast growth factor. The degraded matrix is repaired by an increased level of transforming growth factor and basic fibroblast growth factor.


Environment and Degeneration


Even though all the discs are of the same age, discs found in the lower lumbar segments are more vulnerable to degenerative changes than the discs found in the upper segment. This suggests that not only aging but, also mechanical loading, is a causative factor. The association between degenerative disc disease and environmental factors has been defined in a comprehensive manner by Williams and Sambrook in 2011. (Williams, F.M.K., and P.N. Sambrook) The heavy physical loading associated with your occupation is a risk factor that has some contribution to disc degenerative disease. There is also a possibility of chemicals causing disc degeneration, such as smoking, according to some studies. (Batti�, Michele C.) Nicotine has been implicated in twin studies to cause impaired blood flow to the intervertebral disc, leading to disc degeneration. (BATTI�, MICHELE C., et al.) Moreover, an association has been found among atherosclerotic lesions in the aorta and the low back pain citing a link between atherosclerosis and degenerative disc disease. (Kauppila, L.I.) The disc degeneration severity was implicated in overweight, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and increased body mass index in some studies. (�A Population-Based Study Of Juvenile Disc Degeneration And Its Association With Overweight And Obesity, Low Back Pain, And Diminished Functional Status. Samartzis D, Karppinen J, Mok F, Fong DY, Luk KD, Cheung KM. J Bone Joint Surg Am 2011;93(7):662�70�)


Pain in Disc Degeneration (Discogenic Pain)


Discogenic pain, which is a type of nociceptive pain, arises from the nociceptors in the annulus fibrosus when the nervous system is affected by the degenerative disc disease. Annulus fibrosus contains immune reactive nerve fibers in the outer layer of the disc with other chemicals such as a vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, calcitonin gene-related peptide, and substance P. (KONTTINEN, YRJ� T., et al.) When degenerative changes in the intervertebral discs occur, normal structure and mechanical load are changed leading to abnormal movements. These disc nociceptors can get abnormally sensitized to mechanical stimuli. The pain can also be provoked by the low pH environment caused by the presence of lactic acid, causing increased production of pain mediators.


Pain from degenerative disc disease may arise from multiple origins. It may occur due to the structural damage, pressure, and irritation on the nerves in the spine. The disc itself contains only a few nerve fibers, but any injury can sensitize these nerves, or those in the posterior longitudinal ligament, to cause pain. Micro movements in the vertebrae can occur, which may cause painful reflex muscle spasms because the disc is damaged and worn down with the loss of tension and height. The painful movements arise because the nerves supplying the area are compressed or irritated by the facet joints and ligaments in the foramen leading to leg and back pain. This pain may be aggravated by the release of inflammatory proteins that act on nerves in the foramen or descending nerves in the spinal canal.


Pathological specimens of the degenerative discs, when observed under the microscope, reveals that there are vascularized granulation tissue and extensive innervations found in the fissures of the outer layer of the annulus fibrosus extending into the nucleus pulposus. The granulation tissue area is infiltrated by abundant mast cells and they invariably contribute to the pathological processes that ultimately lead to discogenic pain. These include neovascularisation, intervertebral disc degeneration, disc tissue inflammation, and the formation of fibrosis. Mast cells also release substances, such as tumor necrosis factor and interleukins, which might signal for the activation of some pathways which play a role in causing back pain. Other substances that can trigger these pathways include phospholipase A2, which is produced from the arachidonic acid cascade. It is found in increased concentrations in the outer third of the annulus of the degenerative disc and is thought to stimulate the nociceptors located there to release inflammatory substances to trigger pain. These substances bring about axonal injury, intraneural edema, and demyelination. (Brisby, Helena)


The back pain is thought to arise from the intervertebral disc itself. Hence why the pain will decrease gradually over time when the degenerating disc stops inflicting pain. However, the pain actually arises from the disc itself only in 11% of patients according to endoscopy studies. The actual cause of back pain seems to be due to the stimulation of the medial border of the nerve and referred pain along the arm or leg seems to arise due to the stimulation of the core of the nerve. The treatment for disc degeneration should mainly focus on pain relief to reduce the suffering of the patient because it is the most disabling symptom that disrupts a patient�s lives. Therefore, it is important to establish the mechanism of pain because it occurs not only due to the structural changes in the intervertebral discs but also due to other factors such as the release of chemicals and understanding these mechanisms can lead to effective pain relief. (Choi, Yong-Soo)


Clinical Presentation of Degenerative Disc Disease


Patients with degenerative disc disease face a myriad of symptoms depending on the site of the disease. Those who have lumbar disc degeneration get low back pain, radicular symptoms, and weakness. Those who have cervical disc degeneration have neck pain and shoulder pain.


Low back pain can get exacerbated by the movements and the position. Usually, the symptoms are worsened by the flexion, while the extension often relieves them. Minor twisting injuries, even from swinging a golf club, can trigger the symptoms. The pain is usually observed to be less when walking or running, when changing the position frequently and when lying down. However, the pain is usually subjective and in many cases, it varies considerably from person to person and most people will suffer from a low level of chronic pain of the lower back region continuously while occasionally suffering from the groin, hip, and leg pain. The intensity of the pain will increase from time to time and will last for a few days and then subside gradually. This �flare-up� is an acute episode and needs to be treated with potent analgesics. Worse pain is experienced in the seated position and is exacerbated while bending, lifting, and twisting movements frequently. The severity of the pain can vary considerably with some having occasional nagging pain to others having severe and disabling pain intermittently.� (Jason M. Highsmith, MD)


The localized pain and tenderness in the axial spine usually arises from the nociceptors found within the intervertebral discs, facet joints, sacroiliac joints, dura mater of the nerve roots, and the myofascial structures found within the axial spine. As mentioned in the previous sections, the degenerative anatomical changes may result in a narrowing of the spinal canal called spinal stenosis, overgrowth of spinal processes called osteophytes, hypertrophy of the inferior and superior articular processes, spondylolisthesis, bulging of the ligamentum flavum and disc herniation. These changes result in a collection of symptoms that is known as neurogenic claudication. There may be symptoms such as low back pain and leg pain together with numbness or tingling in the legs, muscle weakness, and foot drop. Loss of bowel or bladder control may suggest spinal cord impingement and prompt medical attention is needed to prevent permanent disabilities. These symptoms can vary in severity and may present to varying extents in different individuals.


The pain can also radiate to other parts of the body due to the fact that the spinal cord gives off several branches to two different sites of the body. Therefore, when the degenerated disc presses on a spinal nerve root, the pain can also be experienced in the leg to which the nerve ultimately innervates. This phenomenon, called radiculopathy, can occur from many sources arising, due to the process of degeneration. The bulging disc, if protrudes centrally, can affect descending rootlets of the cauda equina, if it bulges posterolaterally, it might affect the nerve roots exiting at the next lower intervertebral canal and the spinal nerve within its ventral ramus can get affected when the disc protrudes laterally. Similarly, the osteophytes protruding along the upper and lower margins of the posterior aspect of vertebral bodies can impinge on the same nervous tissues causing the same symptoms. Superior articular process hypertrophy may also impinge upon nerve roots depending on their projection. The nerves may include nerve roots prior to exiting from the next lower intervertebral canal and nerve roots within the upper nerve root canal and dural sac. These symptoms, due to the nerve impingement, have been proven by cadaver studies. Neural compromise is thought to occur when the neuro foraminal diameter is critically occluded with a 70% reduction. Furthermore, neural compromise can be produced when the posterior disc is compressed less than 4 millimeters in height, or when the foraminal height is reduced to less than 15 millimeters leading to foraminal stenosis and nerve impingement. (Taher, Fadi, et al.)


Diagnostic Approach


Patients are initially evaluated with an accurate history and thorough physical examination and appropriate investigations and provocative testing. However, history is often vague due to the chronic pain which cannot be localized properly and the difficulty in determining the exact anatomical location during provocative testing due to the influence of the neighboring anatomical structures.


Through the patient�s history, the cause of low back pain can be identified as arising from the nociceptors in the intervertebral discs. Patients may also give a history of the chronic nature of the symptoms and associated gluteal region numbness, tingling as well as stiffness in the spine which usually worsens with activity. Tenderness may be elicited by palpating over the spine. Due to the nature of the disease being chronic and painful, most patients may be suffering from mood and anxiety disorders. Depression is thought to be contributing negatively to the disease burden. However, no clear relationship between disease severity and mood or anxiety disorders. It is good to be vigilant about these mental health conditions as well. In order to exclude other serious pathologies, questions must be asked regarding fatigue, weight loss, fever, and chills, which might indicate some other diseases. (Jason M. Highsmith, MD)


Another etiology for the low back pain has to be excluded when examining the patient for degenerative disc disease. Abdominal pathologies, which can give rise to back pain such as aortic aneurysm, renal calculi, and pancreatic disease, have to be excluded.


Degenerative disc disease has several differential diagnoses to be considered when a patient presents with back pain. These include; idiopathic low back pain, zygapophyseal joint degeneration, myelopathy, lumbar stenosis, spondylosis, osteoarthritis, and lumbar radiculopathy. (�Degenerative Disc Disease � Physiopedia�)




Investigations are used to confirm the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. These can be divided into laboratory studies, imaging studies, nerve conduction tests, and diagnostic procedures.


Imaging Studies


The imaging in degenerative disc disease is mainly used to describe anatomical relations and morphological features of the affected discs, which has a great therapeutic value in future decision making for treatment options. Any imaging method, like plain radiography, CT, or MRI, can provide useful information. However, an underlying cause can only be found in 15% of the patients as no clear radiological changes are visible in degenerative disc disease in the absence of disc herniation and neurological deficit. Moreover, there is no correlation between the anatomical changes seen on imaging and the severity of the symptoms, although there are correlations between the number of osteophytes and the severity of back pain. Degenerative changes in radiography can also be seen in asymptomatic people leading to difficulty in conforming clinical relevance and when to start treatment. (�Degenerative Disc Disease � Physiopedia�)


Plain Radiography


This inexpensive and widely available plain cervical radiography can give important information on deformities, alignment, and degenerative bony changes. In order to determine the presence of spinal instability and sagittal balance, dynamic flexion, or extension studies have to be performed.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)


MRI is the most commonly used method to diagnose degenerative changes in the intervertebral disc accurately, reliably, and most comprehensively. It is used in the initial evaluation of patients with neck pain after plain radiography. It can provide non-invasive images in multiple plains and gives excellent quality images of the disc. MRI can show disc hydration and morphology-based on the proton density, chemical environment, and the water content. Clinical picture and history of the patient have to be considered when interpreting MRI reports as it has been shown that as much as 25% of radiologists change their report when the clinical data are available. Fonar produced the first open MRI scanner with the ability of the patient to be scanned in different positions such as standing, sitting, and bending. Because of these unique features, this open MRI scanner can be used for scanning patients in weight-bearing postures and stand up postures to detect underlying pathological changes which are usually overlooked in conventional MRI scan such as lumbar degenerative disc disease with herniation. This machine is also good for claustrophobic patients, as they get to watch a large television screen during the scanning process. (�Degenerative Disk Disease: Background, Anatomy, Pathophysiology.�)


Nucleus pulposus and annulus fibrosus of the disc can usually be identified on MRI, leading to the detection of disc herniation as contained and non contained. As MRI can also show annular tears and the posterior longitudinal ligament, it can be used to classify herniation. This can be simple annular bulging to free fragment disc herniations. This information can describe the pathologic discs such as extruded disc, protruded discs, and migrated discs.


There are several grading systems based on MRI signal intensity, disc height, the distinction between nucleus and annulus, and the disc structure. The method, by Pfirrmann et al, has been widely applied and clinically accepted. According to the modified system, there are 8 grades for lumbar disc degenerative disease. Grade 1 represents normal intervertebral disc and grade 8 corresponds to the end stage of degeneration, depicting the progression of the disc disease. There are corresponding images to aid the diagnosis. As they provide good tissue differentiation and detailed description of the disc structure, sagittal T2 weighted images are used for the classification purpose. (Pfirrmann, Christian W. A., et al.)


Modic has described the changes occurring in the vertebral bodies adjacent to the degenerating discs as Type 1 and Type 2 changes. In Modic 1 changes, there is decreased intensity of T1 weighted images and increased intensity T2 weighted images. This is thought to occur because the end plates have undergone sclerosis and the adjacent bone marrow is showing inflammatory response as the diffusion coefficient increases. This increase of diffusion coefficient and the ultimate resistance to diffusion is brought about by the chemical substances released through an autoimmune mechanism. Modic type 2 changes include the destruction of the bone marrow of adjacent vertebral endplates due to an inflammatory response and the infiltration of fat in the marrow. These changes may lead to increased signal density on T1 weighted images. (Modic, M T et al.)


Computed Tomography (CT)


When MRI is not available, Computed tomography is considered a diagnostic test that can detect disc herniation because it has a better contrast between posterolateral margins of the adjacent bony vertebrae, perineal fat, and the herniated disc material. Even so, when diagnosing lateral herniations, MRI remains the imaging modality of choice.


CT scan has several advantages over MRI such as it has a less claustrophobic environment, low cost, and better detection of bonny changes that are subtle and may be missed on other modalities. CT can detect early degenerative changes of the facet joints and spondylosis with more accuracy. Bony integrity after fusion is also best assessed by CT.


Disc herniation and associated nerve impingement can be diagnosed by using the criteria developed by Gundry and Heithoff. It is important for the disc protrusion to lie directly over the nerve roots traversing the disc and to be focal and asymmetrical with a dorsolateral position. There should be demonstrable nerve root compression or displacement. Lastly, the nerve distal to the impingement (site of herniation) often enlarges and bulges with resulting edema, prominence of adjacent epidural veins, and inflammatory exudates resulting in blurring the margin.


Lumbar Discography


This procedure is controversial and, whether knowing the site of the pain has any value regarding surgery or not, has not been proven. False positives can occur due to central hyperalgesia in patients with chronic pain (neurophysiologic finding) and due to psychosocial factors. It is questionable to establish exactly when discogenic pain becomes clinically significant. Those who support this investigation advocates strict criteria for selection of the patients and when interpreting results and believe this is the only test that can diagnose discogenic pain. Lumbar discography can be used in several situations, although it is not scientifically established. These include; diagnosis of lateral herniation, diagnosing a symptomatic disc among multiple abnormalities, assessing similar abnormalities seen on CT or MRI, evaluation of the spine after surgery, selection of fusion level, and the suggestive features of discogenic pain existence.


The discography is more concerned about eliciting pathophysiology rather than determining the anatomy of the disc. Therefore, discogenic pain evaluation is the aim of discography. MRI may reveal an abnormally looking disc with no pain, while severe pain may be seen on discography where MRI findings are few. During the injection of normal saline or the contrast material, a spongy endpoint can occur with abnormal discs accepting more amounts of contrast. The contrast material can extend into the nucleus pulposus through tears and fissures in the annulus fibrosus in the abnormal discs. The pressure of this contrast material can provoke pain due to the innervations by recurrent meningeal nerve, mixed spinal nerve, anterior primary rami, and gray rami communicantes supplying the outer annulus fibrosus. Radicular pain can be provoked when the contrast material reaches the site of nerve root impingement by the abnormal disc. However, this discography test has several complications such as nerve root injury, chemical or bacterial diskitis, contrast allergy, and the exacerbation of pain. (Bartynski, Walter S., and A. Orlando Ortiz)


Imaging Modality Combination


In order to evaluate the nerve root compression and cervical stenosis adequately, a combination of imaging methods may be needed.


CT Discography


After performing initial discography, CT discography is performed within 4 hours. It can be used in determining the status of the disc such as herniated, protruded, extruded, contained or sequestered. It can also be used in the spine to differentiate the mass effects of scar tissue or disc material after spinal surgery.


CT Myelography


This test is considered the best method for evaluating nerve root compression. When CT is performed in combination or after myelography, details about bony anatomy different planes can be obtained with relative ease.


Diagnostic Procedures


Transforaminal Selective Nerve Root Blocks (SNRBs)


When multilevel degenerative disc disease is suspected on an MRI scan, this test can be used to determine the specific nerve root that has been affected. SNRB is both a diagnostic and therapeutic test that can be used for lumbar spinal stenosis. The test creates a demotomal level area of hypoesthesia by injecting an anesthetic and a contrast material under fluoroscopic guidance to the interested nerve root level. There is a correlation between multilevel cervical degenerative disc disease clinical symptoms and findings on MRI and findings of SNRB according to Anderberg et al. There is a 28% correlation with SNRB results and with dermatomal radicular pain and areas of neurologic deficit. Most severe cases of degeneration on MRI are found to be correlated with 60%. Although not used routinely, SNRB is a useful test in evaluating patients before surgery in multilevel degenerative disc disease especially on the spine together with clinical features and findings on MRI. (Narouze, Samer, and Amaresh Vydyanathan)


Electro Myographic Studies


Distal motor and sensory nerve conduction tests, called electromyographic studies, that are normal with abnormal needle exam may reveal nerve compression symptoms that are elicited in the clinical history. Irritated nerve roots can be localized by using injections to anesthetize the affected nerves or pain receptors in the disc space, sacroiliac joint, or the facet joints by discography. (�Journal Of Electromyography & Kinesiology Calendar�)


Laboratory Studies


Laboratory tests are usually done to exclude other differential diagnoses.


As seronegative spondyloarthropathies, such as ankylosing spondylitis, are common causes of back pain, HLA B27 immuno-histocompatibility has to be tested. Estimated 350,000 persons in the US and 600,000 in Europe have been affected by this inflammatory disease of unknown etiology. But HLA B27 is extremely rarely found in African Americans. Other seronegative spondyloarthropathies that can be tested using this gene include psoriatic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and reactive arthritis or Reiter syndrome. Serum immunoglobulin A (IgA) can be increased in some patients.


Tests like the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C- reactive protein (CRP) level test for the acute phase reactants seen in inflammatory causes of lower back pain such as osteoarthritis and malignancy. The full blood count is also required, including differential counts to ascertain the disease etiology. Autoimmune diseases are suspected when Rheumatoid factor (RF) and anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) tests become positive. Serum uric acid and synovial fluid analysis for crystals may be needed in rare cases to exclude gout and pyrophosphate dihydrate deposition.




There is no definitive treatment method agreed by all physicians regarding the treatment of degenerative disc disease because the cause of the pain can differ in different individuals and so is the severity of pain and the wide variations in clinical presentation. The treatment options can be discussed broadly under; conservative treatment, medical treatment, and surgical treatment.


Conservative Treatment


This treatment method includes exercise therapy with behavioral interventions, physical modalities, injections, back education, and back school methods.


Exercise-Based Therapy with Behavioral Interventions


Depending on the diagnosis of the patient, different types of exercises can be prescribed. It is considered one of the main methods of conservative management to treat chronic low back pain. The exercises can be modified to include stretching exercises, aerobic exercises, and muscle strengthening exercises. One of the major challenges of this therapy includes its inability to assess the efficacy among patients due to wide variations in the exercise regimens, frequency, and intensity. According to studies, most effectiveness for sub-acute low back pain with varying duration of symptoms was obtained by performing graded exercise programs within the occupational setting of the patient. Significant improvements were observed among patients suffering from chronic symptoms with this therapy with regard to functional improvement and pain reduction. Individual therapies designed for each patient under close supervision and compliance of the patient also seems to be the most effective in chronic back pain sufferers. Other conservative approaches can be used in combination to improve this approach. (Hayden, Jill A., et al.)


Aerobic exercises, if performed regularly, can improve endurance. For relieving muscle tension, relaxation methods can be used. Swimming is also considered an exercise for back pain. Floor exercises can include extension exercises, hamstring stretches, low back stretches, double knee to chin stretches, seat lifts, modified sit-ups, abdominal bracing, and mountain and sag exercises.


Physical Modalities


This method includes the use of electrical nerve stimulation, relaxation, ice packs, biofeedback, heating pads, phonophoresis, and iontophoresis.


Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)


In this non-invasive method, electrical stimulation is delivered to the skin in order to stimulate the peripheral nerves in the area to relieve the pain to some extent. This method relieves pain immediately following application but its long term effectiveness is doubtful. With some studies, it has been found that there is no significant improvement in pain and functional status when compared with placebo. The devices performing these TENS can be easily accessible from the outpatient department. The only side effect seems to be a mild skin irritation experienced in a third of patients. (Johnson, Mark I)


Back School


This method was introduced with the aim of reducing the pain symptoms and their recurrences. It was first introduced in Sweden and takes into account the posture, ergonomics, appropriate back exercises, and the anatomy of the lumbar region. Patients are taught the correct posture to sit, stand, lift weights, sleep, wash face, and brush teeth avoiding pain. When compared with other treatment modalities, back school therapy has been proven to be effective in both immediate and intermediate periods for improving back pain and functional status.


Patient Education


In this method, the provider instructs the patient on how to manage their back pain symptoms. Normal spinal anatomy and biomechanics involving mechanisms of injury is taught at first. Next, using the spinal models, the degenerative disc disease diagnosis is explained to the patient. For the individual patient, the balanced position is determined and then asked to maintain that position to avoid getting symptoms.


Bio-Psychosocial Approach to Multidisciplinary Back Therapy


Chronic back pain can cause a lot of distress to the patient, leading to psychological disturbances and low mood. This can adversely affect the therapeutic outcomes rendering most treatment strategies futile. Therefore, patients must be educated on learned cognitive strategies called �behavioral� and �bio-psychosocial� strategies to get relief from pain. In addition to treating the biological causes of pain, psychological, and social causes should also be addressed in this method. In order to reduce the patient�s perception of pain and disability, methods like modified expectations, relaxation techniques, control of physiological responses by learned behavior, and reinforcement are used.


Massage Therapy


For chronic low back pain, this therapy seems to be beneficial. Over a 1 year period, massage therapy has been found to be moderately effective for some patients when compared to acupuncture and other relaxation methods. However, it is less efficacious than TENS and exercise therapy although individual patients may prefer one over the other. (Furlan, Andrea D., et al.)


Spinal Manipulation


This therapy involves the manipulation of a joint beyond its normal range of movement, but not exceeding that of the normal anatomical range. This is a manual therapy that involves long lever manipulation with a low velocity. It is thought to improve low back pain through several mechanisms like the release of entrapped nerves, destruction of articular and peri-articular adhesions, and through manipulating segments of the spine that had undergone displacement. It can also reduce the bulging of the disc, relax the hypertonic muscles, stimulate the nociceptive fibers via changing the neurophysiological function and reposition the menisci on the articular surface.


Spinal manipulation is thought to be superior in efficacy when compared to most methods such as TENS, exercise therapy, NSAID drugs, and back school therapy. The currently available research is positive regarding its effectiveness in both the long and short term. It is also very safe to administer under-trained therapists with cases of disc herniation and cauda equina being reported only in lower than 1 in 3.7 million people. (Bronfort, Gert, et al.)


Lumbar Supports


Patients suffering from chronic low back pain due to degenerative processes at multiple levels with several causes may benefit from lumbar support. There is conflicting evidence with regards to its effectiveness with some studies claiming moderate improvement in immediate and long term relief while others suggesting no such improvement when compared to other treatment methods. Lumbar supports can stabilize, correct deformity, reduce mechanical forces, and limit the movements of the spine. It may also act as a placebo and reduce the pain by massaging the affected areas and applying heat.


Lumbar Traction


This method uses a harness attached to the iliac crest and lower rib cage and applies a longitudinal force along the axial spine to relieve chronic low back pain. The level and duration of the force are adjusted according to the patient and it can be measured by using devices both while walking and lying down. Lumbar traction acts by opening the intervertebral disc spaces and by reducing the lumbar lordosis. The symptoms of degenerative disc disease are reduced through this method due to temporary spine realignment and its associated benefits. It relieves nerve compression and mechanical stress, disrupts the adhesions in the facet and annulus, and also nociceptive pain signals. However, there is not much evidence with regard to its effectiveness in reducing back pain or improving daily function. Furthermore, the risks associated with lumbar traction are still under research and some case reports are available where it has caused a nerve impingement, respiratory difficulties, and blood pressure changes due to heavy force and incorrect placement of the harness. (Harte, A et al.)


Medical Treatment


Medical therapy involves drug treatment with muscle relaxants, steroid injections, NSAIDs, opioids, and other analgesics. This is needed, in addition to conservative treatment, in most patients with degenerative disc disease. Pharmacotherapy is aimed to control disability, reduce pain and swelling while improving the quality of life. It is catered according to the individual patient as there is no consensus regarding the treatment.


Muscle Relaxants


Degenerative disc disease may benefit from muscle relaxants by reducing the spasm of muscles and thereby relieving pain. The efficacy of muscle relaxants in improving pain and functional status has been established through several types of research. Benzodiazepine is the most common muscle relaxant currently in use.


Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)


These drugs are commonly used as the first step in disc degenerative disease providing analgesia, as well as anti-inflammatory effects. There is strong evidence that it reduces chronic low back pain. However, its use is limited by gastrointestinal disturbances, like acute gastritis. Selective COX2 inhibitors, like celecoxib, can overcome this problem by only targeting COX2 receptors. Their use is not widely accepted due to its potential side effects in increasing cardiovascular disease with prolonged use.


Opioid Medications


This is a step higher up in the WHO pain ladder. It is reserved for patients suffering from severe pain not responding to NSAIDs and those with unbearable GI disturbances with NSAID therapy. However, the prescription of narcotics for treating back pain varies considerably between clinicians. According to literature, 3 to 66% of patients may be taking some form of the opioid to relieve their back pain. Even though the short term reduction in symptoms is marked, there is a risk of long term narcotic abuse, a high rate of tolerance, and respiratory distress in the older population. Nausea and vomiting are some of the short term side effects encountered. (�Systematic Review: Opioid Treatment For Chronic Back Pain: Prevalence, Efficacy, And Association With Addiction�)




Anti-depressants, in low doses, have analgesic value and may be beneficial in chronic low back pain patients who may present with associated depression symptoms. The pain and suffering may be disrupting the sleep of the patient and reducing the pain threshold. These can be addressed by using anti-depressants in low doses even though there is no evidence that it improves the function.


Injection Therapy


Epidural Steroid Injections


Epidural steroid injections are the most widely used injection type for the treatment of chronic degenerative disc disease and associated radiculopathy. There is a variation between the type of steroid used and its dose. 8- 10 mL of a mixture of methylprednisolone and normal saline is considered an effective and safe dose. The injections can be given through interlaminar, caudal, or trans foramina routes. A needle can be inserted under the guidance of fluoroscopy. First contrast, then local anesthesia and lastly, the steroid is injected into the epidural space at the affected level via this method. The pain relief is achieved due to the combination of effects from both local anesthesia and the steroid. Immediate pain relief can be achieved through the local anesthetic by blocking the pain signal transmission and while also confirming the diagnosis. Inflammation is also reduced due to the action of steroids in blocking pro-inflammatory cascade.


During the recent decade, the use of epidural steroid injection has increased by 121%. However, there is controversy regarding its use due to the variation in response levels and potentially serious adverse effects. Usually, these injections are believed to cause only short term relief of symptoms. Some clinicians may inject 2 to 3 injections within a one-week duration, although the long term results are the same for that of a patient given only a single injection. For a one year period, more than 4 injections shouldn�t be given. For more immediate and effective pain relief, preservative-free morphine can also be added to the injection. Even local anesthetics, like lidocaine and bupivacaine, are added for this purpose. Evidence for long term pain relief is limited. (�A Placebo-Controlled Trial To Evaluate Effectivity Of Pain Relief Using Ketamine With Epidural Steroids For Chronic Low Back Pain�)


There are potential side effects due to this therapy, in addition to its high cost and efficacy concerns. Needles can get misplaced if fluoroscopy is not used in as much as 25% of cases, even with the presence of experienced staff. The epidural placement can be identified by pruritus reliably. Respiratory depression or urinary retention can occur following injection with morphine and so the patient needs to be monitored for 24 hours following the injection.


Facet Injections


These injections are given to facet joints, also called zygapophysial joints, which are situated between two adjacent vertebrae. Anesthesia can be directly injected to the joint space or to the associated medial branch of the dorsal rami, which innervates it. There is evidence that this method improves the functional ability, quality of life, and relieves pain. They are thought to provide both short and long term benefits, although studies have shown both facet injections and epidural steroid injections are similar in efficacy. (Wynne, Kelly A)


SI Joint Injections


This is a diarthrodial synovial joint with nerve supply from both myelinated and non-myelin nerve axons. The injection can effectively treat degenerative disc disease involving sacroiliac joint leading to both long and short term relief from symptoms such as low back pain and referred pain at legs, thigh, and buttocks. The injections can be repeated every 2 to 3 months but should be performed only if clinically necessary. (MAUGARS, Y. et al.)


Intradiscal Non-Operative Therapies for Discogenic Pain


As described under the investigations, discography can be used both as a diagnostic and therapeutic method. After the diseased disc is identified, several minimally invasive methods can be tried before embarking on surgery. Electrical current and its heat can be used to coagulate the posterior annulus thereby strengthening the collagen fibers, denaturing and destroying inflammatory mediators and nociceptors, and sealing figures. The methods used in this are called intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET) or radiofrequency posterior annuloplasty (RPA), in which an electrode is passed to the disc. IDET has moderate evidence in relief of symptoms for disc degenerative disease patients, while RPA has limited support regarding its short term and long term efficacy. Both these procedures can lead to complications such as nerve root injury, catheter malfunction, infection, and post-procedure disc herniation.


Surgical Treatment


Surgical treatment is reserved for patients with failed conservative therapy taking into account the disease severity, age, other comorbidities, socio-economic condition, and the level of outcome expected. It is estimated that around 5% of patients with degenerative disc disease undergo surgery, either for their lumbar disease or cervical disease. (Rydevik, Bj�rn L.)


Lumbar Spine Procedures


Lumbar surgery is indicated in patients with severe pain, with a duration of 6 to 12 months of ineffective drug therapy, who have critical spinal stenosis. The surgery is usually an elective procedure except in the case of cauda equina syndrome. There are two procedure types that aim to involve spinal fusion or decompression or both. (�Degenerative Disk Disease: Background, Anatomy, Pathophysiology.�)


Spinal fusion involves stopping movements at a painful vertebral segment in order to reduce the pain by fusing several vertebrae together by using a bone graft. It is considered effective in the long term for patients with degenerative disc disease having spinal malalignment or excessive movement. There are several approaches to fusion surgery. (Gupta, Vijay Kumar, et al)


  • Lumbar spinal posterolateral guttur fusion


This method involves placing a bone graft in the posterolateral part of the spine. A bone graft can be harvested from the posterior iliac crest. The bones are stripped off from its periosteum for successful grafting. A back brace is needed in the post-operative period and patients may need to stay in the hospital for about 5 to 10 days. Limited motion and cessation of smoking are needed for successful fusion. However, several risks such as non-union, infection, bleeding, and solid union with back pain may occur.


  • Posterior lumbar interbody fusion


In this method, decompression or diskectomy methods can also be performed via the same approach. The bone grafts are directly applied to the disc space and ligamentum flavum is excised completely. For the degenerative disc disease, interlaminar space is widened additionally by performing a partial medial facetectomy. Back braces are optional with this method. It has several disadvantages when compared to anterior approach such as only small grafts can be inserted, the reduced surface area available for fusion, and difficulty when performing surgery on spinal deformity patients. The major risk involved is non-union.


  • Anterior lumbar interbody fusion


This procedure is similar to the posterior one except that it is approached through the abdomen instead of the back. It has the advantage of not disrupting the back muscles and the nerve supply. It is contraindicated in patients with osteoporosis and has the risk of bleeding, retrograde ejaculation in men, non-union, and infection.


  • Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion


This is a modified version of the posterior approach which is becoming popular. It offers low risk with good exposure and it is shown to have an excellent outcome with a few complications such as CSF leak, transient neurological impairment, and wound infection.


Total Disc Arthroplasty


This is an alternative to disc fusion and it has been used to treat lumbar degenerative disc disease using an artificial disc to replace the affected disc. Total prosthesis or nuclear prosthesis can be used depending on the clinical situation.


Decompression involves removing part of the disc of the vertebral body, which is impinging on a nerve to release that and provide room for its recovery via procedures called diskectomy and laminectomy. The efficacy of the procedure is questionable although it is a commonly performed surgery. Complications are very few with a low chance of recurrence of symptoms with higher patient satisfaction. (Gupta, Vijay Kumar, et al)


  • Lumbar discectomy


The surgery is performed through a posterior midline approach by dividing the ligamentum flavum. The nerve root that is affected is identified and bulging annulus is cut to release it. Full neurological examination should be performed afterward and patients are usually fit to go home 1 � 5 days later. Low back exercises should be started soon followed by light work and then heavy work at 2 and 12 weeks respectively.


  • Lumbar laminectomy


This procedure can be performed thorough one level, as well as through multiple levels. Laminectomy should be as short as possible to avoid spinal instability. Patients have marked relief of symptoms and reduction in radiculopathy following the procedure. The risks may include bowel and bladder incontinence, CSF leakage, nerve root damage, and infection.


Cervical Spine Procedures


Cervical degenerative disc disease is indicated for surgery when there is unbearable pain associated with progressive motor and sensory deficits. Surgery has a more than 90% favorable outcome when there is radiographic evidence of nerve root compression. There are several options including anterior cervical diskectomy (ACD), ACD, and fusion (ACDF), ACDF with internal fixation, and posterior foraminotomy. (�Degenerative Disk Disease: Background, Anatomy, Pathophysiology.�)


Cell-Based Therapy


Stem cell transplantation has emerged as a novel therapy for degenerative disc disease with promising results. The introduction of autologous chondrocytes has been found to reduce discogenic pain over a 2 year period. These therapies are currently undergoing human trials. (Jeong, Je Hoon, et al.)


Gene Therapy


Gene transduction in order to halt the disc degenerative process and even inducing disc regeneration is currently under research. For this, beneficial genes have to be identified while demoting the activity of degeneration promoting genes. These novel treatment options give hope for future treatment to be directed at regenerating intervertebral discs. (Nishida, Kotaro, et al.)



Degenerative disc disease is a health issue characterized by chronic back pain due to a damaged intervertebral disc, such as low back pain in the lumbar spine or neck pain in the cervical spine. It is a breakdown of an intervertebral disc of the spine. Several pathological changes can occur in disc degeneration. Various anatomical defects can also occur in the intervertebral disc. Low back pain and neck pain are major epidemiological problems, which are thought to be related to degenerative disc disease. Back pain is the second leading cause of doctor office visits in the United States. It is estimated that about 80% of US adults suffer from low back pain at least once during their lifetime. Therefore, a thorough understanding of degenerative disc disease is needed for managing this common condition. – Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T. Insight


The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, and sensitive health issues and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate and support directly or indirectly our clinical scope of practice.* Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We also make copies of supporting research studies available to the board and or the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation as to how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900. The provider(s) Licensed in Texas*& New Mexico*�


Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T.




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  27. Pfirrmann, Christian W. A. et al. �Magnetic Resonance Classification Of Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Degeneration.� Spine, vol 26, no. 17, 2001, pp. 1873-1878. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/00007632-200109010-00011.
  28. Bartynski, Walter S., and A. Orlando Ortiz. �Interventional Assessment Of The Lumbar Disk: Provocation Lumbar Diskography And Functional Anesthetic Diskography.� Techniques In Vascular And Interventional Radiology, vol 12, no. 1, 2009, pp. 33-43. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1053/j.tvir.2009.06.003.
  29. Narouze, Samer, and Amaresh Vydyanathan. �Ultrasound-Guided Cervical Transforaminal Injection And Selective Nerve Root Block.� Techniques In Regional Anesthesia And Pain Management, vol 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 137-141. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1053/j.trap.2009.06.016.
  30. �Journal Of Electromyography & Kinesiology Calendar.� Journal Of Electromyography And Kinesiology, vol 4, no. 2, 1994, p. 126. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/1050-6411(94)90034-5.
  31. Hayden, Jill A. et al. �Systematic Review: Strategies For Using Exercise Therapy To Improve Outcomes In Chronic Low Back Pain.� Annals Of Internal Medicine, vol 142, no. 9, 2005, p. 776. American College Of Physicians, doi:10.7326/0003-4819-142-9-200505030-00014.
  32. Johnson, Mark I. �Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) And TENS-Like Devices: Do They Provide Pain Relief?.� Pain Reviews, vol 8, no. 3-4, 2001, pp. 121-158. Portico, doi:10.1191/0968130201pr182ra.
  33. Harte, A et al. �Efficacy Of Lumbar Traction In The Management Of Low Back Pain.� Physiotherapy, vol 88, no. 7, 2002, pp. 433-434. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/s0031-9406(05)61278-3.
  34. Bronfort, Gert et al. �Efficacy Of Spinal Manipulation And Mobilization For Low Back Pain And Neck Pain: A Systematic Review And Best Evidence Synthesis.� The Spine Journal, vol 4, no. 3, 2004, pp. 335-356. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.spinee.2003.06.002.
  35. Furlan, Andrea D. et al. �Massage For Low-Back Pain: A Systematic Review Within The Framework Of The Cochrane Collaboration Back Review Group.� Spine, vol 27, no. 17, 2002, pp. 1896-1910. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/00007632-200209010-00017.
  36. �Systematic Review: Opioid Treatment For Chronic Back Pain: Prevalence, Efficacy, And Association With Addiction.� Clinical Governance: An International Journal, vol 12, no. 4, 2007, Emerald, doi:10.1108/cgij.2007.24812dae.007.
  37. �A Placebo Controlled Trial To Evaluate Effectivity Of Pain Relief Using Ketamine With Epidural Steroids For Chronic Low Back Pain.� International Journal Of Science And Research (IJSR), vol 5, no. 2, 2016, pp. 546-548. International Journal Of Science And Research, doi:10.21275/v5i2.nov161215.
  38. Wynne, Kelly A. �Facet Joint Injections In The Management Of Chronic Low Back Pain: A Review.� Pain Reviews, vol 9, no. 2, 2002, pp. 81-86. Portico, doi:10.1191/0968130202pr190ra.
  39. MAUGARS, Y. et al. �ASSESSMENT OF THE EFFICACY OF SACROILIAC CORTICOSTEROID INJECTIONS IN SPONDYLARTHROPATHIES: A DOUBLE-BLIND STUDY.� Rheumatology, vol 35, no. 8, 1996, pp. 767-770. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1093/rheumatology/35.8.767.
  40. Rydevik, Bj�rn L. �Point Of View: Seven- To 10-Year Outcome Of Decompressive Surgery For Degenerative Lumbar Spinal Stenosis.� Spine, vol 21, no. 1, 1996, p. 98. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/00007632-199601010-00023.
  41. Jeong, Je Hoon et al. �Regeneration Of Intervertebral Discs In A Rat Disc Degeneration Model By Implanted Adipose-Tissue-Derived Stromal Cells.� Acta Neurochirurgica, vol 152, no. 10, 2010, pp. 1771-1777. Springer Nature, doi:10.1007/s00701-010-0698-2.
  42. Nishida, Kotaro et al. �Gene Therapy Approach For Disc Degeneration And Associated Spinal Disorders.� European Spine Journal, vol 17, no. S4, 2008, pp. 459-466. Springer Nature, doi:10.1007/s00586-008-0751-5.


Nervous About Chiropractic Treatment for Herniated Disc El Paso, TX.

Nervous About Chiropractic Treatment for Herniated Disc El Paso, TX.

Q: My primary healthcare provider recently diagnosed me with a herniated disc in the lumbar spine. They referred me to get chiropractic treatment, but I�m nervous because it’s new to me and I’m afraid of being adjusted wrong, paralyzed, etc. Can I trust chiropractic treatment to work?

A: It�s normal to be nervous about going to a chiropractic clinic.

If you’re not sure whether chiropractic is for you, there is scientific evidence that shows how chiropractic techniques like spinal manipulation/spinal adjustment and forms of manual/mechanical therapy are safe and effective for relieving pain and other musculoskeletal pain, conditions, and symptoms.

I encourage everyone to try chiropractic treatment as a non-surgical treatment option for a herniated disc.


11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Nervous About Chiropractic Treatment for Herniated Disc El Paso, TX.


It Is Your Decision

At the first appointment, a chiropractor will take a medical history and perform a thorough exam to determine the nature of the symptoms and their possible causes, which include a herniated disc.

Sometimes with a herniated disc, there may be no symptoms at all.

But usually a herniated disc causes:

  • Back pain
  • Referred pain or pain that is felt in other parts of the body like the legs, feet, etc.
  • An irritated spinal nerve can cause symptoms in the legs

This can lead to neurological symptoms like:

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness in the legs

Once the chiropractor determines your symptoms, they may use one or several techniques to relieve the back pain and other symptoms.

Techniques used by chiropractors for disc-related problems include:

  • Specific self-treatment exercises to improve motion & decrease back pain
  • McKenzie method for relieving leg symptoms
  • Cox technique like spinal traction using special tables
  • Spinal manipulation
  • Hands-on techniques that relieve pain and restore movement to the spine and body

These techniques have been proven to be very safe. There are other techniques a chiropractor can recommend for various conditions, as each has their own style and method.

A chiropractic treatment plan will also include:

  1. Education
  2. Self-management instructions

This is to teach you how to control/eliminate pain with proper posture and proper body mechanics.

Whichever treatment the chiropractor recommends, he or she will discuss it with you, including the benefits and risks.

Although the treatments listed above will most likely be a part of your treatment plan, your chiropractor will answer your questions and work with you to select a treatment that meets your specific goals and preferences.

11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Nervous About Chiropractic Treatment for Herniated Disc El Paso, TX.


Don’t Be Nervous A Chiropractor Monitors Treatment Progress

If symptoms do not improve within a reasonable time frame, then a chiropractor may refer the patient to other treatments to manage disc-related pain, including:

  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Spinal injections
  • Surgery

Fortunately, self-management and time can be the best treatment. Allowing the body to heal itself is the way to go. But if rest is not enough then chiropractic treatment may be just what is needed to kick in the body’s self-healing function.

If you decide to give chiropractic treatment a try, don’t be nervous, as a chiropractor will monitor progress throughout the treatment.

In any case, chiropractors are qualified to discuss the benefits and risks of other treatments, depending on the condition.

Hopefully, this article has given you the basics of chiropractic medicine and how it works so you can make the best choice for your herniated disc/s.


Low Back Pain Management El Paso, TX Chiropractor



Denise suffered an auto accident injury which resulted in back pain. When she realized she could not sit, walk or sleep for lengthy periods of time without having painful symptoms, Denise found chiropractic care with Dr. Alex Jimenez at El Paso, TX. Once she received therapy for her automobile accident injuries, Denise experienced relief from her symptoms and she was able to execute her regular tasks once again. Thanks to the education and maintenance Dr. Alex Jimenez supplied, Denise regained her initial health and health.

Back pain is more most common, with roughly nine out of ten adults undergoing it at some time in their lifetime, and five functioning adults developing it annually. Some quote around 95 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some time in their lifetime. It is undoubtedly the typical cause of chronic pain since it’s also a substantial contributor to missed work and handicap. In the United States alone, acute cases of lower back pain are the fifth most frequent reason for doctor visits and cause 40% of missed days off work. What’s more, it is the leading cause of disability worldwide.


NCBI Resources

A herniated disc is a common spinal condition that typically affects the cervical spine (neck region) or the lumbar spine (lower back), although it can occur in any part of the spine. Most often, a herniated disc happens at the L4 � L5 and the L5 � S1.� This is because this portion of the spine, the lumbar region, bears the bulk of the body�s weight.


Herniated Discs – What We Want To Know |El Paso, Tx.

Herniated Discs – What We Want To Know |El Paso, Tx.

A herniated disc is a common spinal disc issue. The spine is a very intricate structure, and when one component fails to function correctly, it can affect the entire body, causing pain and loss of mobility.

Tiny bones, called vertebrae, are stacked on each other to form the spine. They are joined in such a way to facilitate movement, flexibility, and a wide range of motion. There are small, fluid-filled discs that rest between each vertebra, providing a cushion between the bones. When one of these discs becomes damaged, it can affect the surrounding nerves, causing pain and making movement difficult.

What is It?

A herniated disc is a common spinal condition that typically affects the cervical spine (neck region) or the lumbar spine (lower back), although it can occur in any part of the spine. Most often, a herniated disc happens at the L4 � L5 and the L5 � S1.  This is because this portion of the spine, the lumbar region, bears the bulk of the body�s weight.

It is often referred to as a ruptured disc or slipped disc and occurs when the disc moves or slips out of place. It can also be the result of a disc that has a small tear and is leaking the jelly-like substance that is inside. This can put pressure on the surrounding nerves, causing pain and discomfort.

a herniated disc chiropractic help el paso tx.

What are the Progression and Symptoms?

There are four stages of a disc herniation:

  1. Disc protrusion
  2. Prolapsed disc
  3. Disc extrusion
  4. Sequestered disc

The first two stages are called incomplete herniations while the last two stages are called complete herniations.

Symptoms of a herniated disc may increase or worsen as the condition progresses although some patients do not experience any at all Typical symptoms include:

  • Pain in the affected area
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Leg or arm pain
  • Loss of reflex
  • Loss of mobility
  • Loss of flexibility
  • Decreased range of motion

What Causes It?

There are several causes. The most common are aging and degeneration, overuse, and normal wear and tear on the body.

A herniated disc resulting from an injury or trauma, such as a blow to the back, is less common, but it does happen. Because the back does bear most of the body�s weight, it can put a significant amount of pressure on the spine and discs. Over time, the discs may begin to weaken and a herniation can occur.

Injury or trauma that results in a herniation may include a car accident that involves sudden jerking, or incorrectly lifting heaving objects can put excessive pressure on the spine, causing it to herniate.

How is it Diagnosed?

A physical examination is usually the first step in diagnosing a herniated disc. The physician or chiropractor will examine the spine while the patient is standing, then while they are lying down. Depending on the severity and location of the herniation, they may note a decrease in spinal curvature.

Radicular pain will also be assessed, when the spine is unmoving, while in motion, and when pressure is applied. Other tests may also be administered. X-rays may also be taken, but an MRI is usually more accurate and provides greater detail.

What are the Treatments?

Medications may be recommended or prescribed, including NSAIDs, narcotics, muscle relaxers, and anticonvulsants. Some doctors may advise cortisone injections to reduce inflammation. Physical therapy may be recommended as a stand-alone treatment or in conjunctions with other treatments. Surgery for herniated discs is rare and usually reserved as a last resort option.

Chiropractic has been very effective in helping patients manage their pain and regain their mobility so they can return to their normal life. Therefore, it should be your first option for treatment before you go down the road with drugs or surgery.

a herniated disc chiropractic help el paso tx.

El Paso Back Clinic

The Role of Emergency Radiology in Spinal Trauma

The Role of Emergency Radiology in Spinal Trauma

Spinal trauma consists of spine fractures, or spinal fractures, and spinal cord injuries. Approximately 12,000 spinal trauma cases are reported in the United States every year. While the most prevalent causes of spinal cord injuries and spine fractures are automobile accidents and falls, spinal trauma can also be attributed to assault, sports injuries, and work-related accidents. Diagnosis of spinal trauma includes imaging and assessment of nerve function, such as reflex, motor, and sensation. The following article discusses the role of emergency radiology in spinal trauma. Chiropractic care can help provide diagnostic evaluations for spinal trauma.


Spinal trauma is very frequent injury with different severity and prognosis varying from asymptomatic condition to temporary neurological dysfunction, focal deficit or fatal event. The major causes of spinal trauma are high- and low- energy fall, traffic accident, sport and blunt impact. The radiologist has a role of great responsibility to establish the presence or absence of lesions, to define the characteristics, to assess the prognostic influence and therefore treatment. Imaging has an important role in the management of spinal trauma. The aim of this paper was to describe: incidence and type of vertebral fracture; imaging indication and guidelines for cervical trauma; imaging indication and guidelines for thoracolumbar trauma; multidetector CT indication for trauma spine; MRI indication and protocol for trauma spine.


The trauma of the spine weighs heavily on the budget of social and economic development of our society. In the USA, 15�40 cases per million populations with 12,000 cases of paraplegia every year, 4000 deaths before admission and 1000 deaths during hospitalization are estimated. The young adult population is the most frequently involved in road accidents, followed by those at home and at work, with a prevalence of falls from high and sports injuries.1

Imaging has an important role in the management of spinal trauma. Quick and proper management of the patients with trauma, from diagnosis to therapy, can mean reduction of the neurological damage of vital importance for the future of the patient. Radiologists have a role of great responsibility to establish the presence or absence of lesions, defining the characteristics, assessing the prognostic influence and therefore treatment.

The aim of this paper was to describe:

  • incidence and type of vertebral fracture
  • imaging indication and guidelines for cervical trauma
  • imaging indication and guidelines for thoracolumbar trauma
  • multidetector CT (MDCT) pattern for trauma spine
  • MRI pattern for trauma spine.

Spinal trauma, including spine fractures and spinal cord injuries, represent about 3 percent to 6 percent of all skeletal injuries. Diagnostic assessments are fundamental towards the complex diagnosis of spinal trauma. While plain radiography is the initial diagnostic modality used for spine fractures and/or spinal cord injuries, CT scans and MRI can also help with diagnosis. As a chiropractic care office, we can offer diagnostic assessments, such as X-rays, to help determine the best treatment.

Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T.

Vertebral Fracture Management and Imaging Indication and Evaluation

The rationale of imaging in spinal trauma is:

  • To diagnose the traumatic abnormality and characterize the type of injury.
  • To estimate the severity, potential spinal instability or damaged stability with or without neurological lesion associated, in order to avoid neurological worsening with medical legal issue.
  • To evaluate the state of the spinal cord and surrounding structures (MR is the gold standard technique).

Clinical evaluation involving different specialities�emergency medicine, trauma surgery, orthopaedics, neurosurgery and radiology or neuroradiology�and trauma information is the most important key point in order to decide when and which type of imaging technique is indicated.2

A common question in patients with spine trauma is: is there still a role for plain-film X-ray compared with CT?

In order to clarify when and what is more appropriate for spinal trauma, different guidelines were published distinguishing cervical and thoracolumbar level.

Cervical Spinal Trauma: Standard X-Ray and Multidetector CT Indication

For cervical level, controversy persists regarding the most efficient and effective method between cervical standard X-ray with three film projections (anteroposterior and lateral view plus open-mouth odontoid view) and MDCT.

X-ray is generally reserved for evaluating patients suspected of cervical spine injury and those with injuries of the thoracic and lumbar areas where suspicion of injury is low. Despite the absence of a randomized controlled trial and thanks to the high quality and performance of�MDCT and its post-processing (multiplanar reconstruction and three-dimensional volume rendering), the superiority of cervical CT (CCT) compared with cervical standard X-ray for the detection of clinically significant cervical spine injury is well demonstrated.

Figure 1. (a�l). A 20-year-old male involved in a motorbike accident. The multidetector CT with multiplanar reformatted and three- dimensional volume-rendering reconstructions (a�d) showed traumatic fracture of C6 with traumatic posterior spondylolisthesis grade III with spinal cord compression. The MRI (e�h) confirmed the traumatic fracture of C6 with traumatic posterior spondylolisthesis grade III with severe spinal cord compression. The post-surgical treatment MRI control (i�l) showed the sagittal alignment of cervical level and severe hyperintensity signal alteration of the spinal cord from C3 to T1.

In order to reduce the patient radiation exposure, it is important to determine and to select patients who need imaging and those who do not, through the clinical evaluation and probability of cervical spine injury, using only MDCT for the appropriate patient as is more cost-effective screening.3

First of all, it is necessary to distinguish the type of trauma:

  • minor trauma (stable patient, mentally alert, not under the influence of alcohol or other drugs and who has no history or physical findings suggesting a neck injury)
  • major and severe trauma (multitrauma, unstable patient with a simple temporary neurological dysfunction, with focal neurological deficit or with a history or mechanism of injury sufficient to have exceeded the physiologic range of motion).

Second, it is important to establish if trauma risk factors are presents, such as:

  • violence of trauma: high-energy fall (high risk) or low-energy fall (low risk)
  • age of the patient: <5years old, >65 years old�
  • associated lesions: head, chest, abdomen (multitrauma) etc.
  • clinical signs: Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), neurological deficit, vertebral deformation.

Combining these elements, patients can be divided into �low
risk� and �high risk� for cervical injury.

The first group consists of patients who are awake (GCS 15), alert, cooperative and non-intoxicated without any distract- ing injury.

The second group consists of unconscious, sedated, intoxicated or non-cooperative patients or those with a distracting injury or an altered mental state (GCS ,15) with a 5% chance of cervical spine injuries.3,4

CCT has a wider indication than X-ray for patients at very high risk of cervical spine injury (major trauma or multitrauma). No evidence suggests CCT instead of X-ray for a patient who is at low risk for cervical spine injury.5

Figure 2. (a�g). A 30-year-old male involved in a motorbike accident. The multidetector CT with multiplanar reformatted and three-dimensional volume-rendering reconstructions (a�d) showed traumatic burst fracture of L1 (A2-type Magerl class) with posterior bone fragment dislocation into spinal canal. The MRI (e�g) confirmed the burst fracture of L1 with moderate spinal cord compression.
Figure 3. (a�d) A 50-year-old male involved in a motorbike accident with acute spinal cord compression symptoms on anticoagulation treatment. The MRI showed an acute haemorrhagic lesion at the C2�C4 posterior epidural space, hypointense on sagittal T1 weighted (a) and hyperintense on T2 weighted (b) with spinal cord compression and dislocation on axial T2* (c) and T2 weighted (d).

In 2000, the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization (NEXUS) study, analysing 34,069 patients, established low-risk criteria to identify patients with a low probability of cervical spine injury, who consequently needed no cervical spine�imaging. To meet the NEXUS criteria, a patient must have the following conditions:

  1. no tenderness at the posterior midline of the cervical spine
  2. no focal neurologic deficit
  3. normal level of alertness
  4. no evidence of intoxication
  5. no clinically apparent painful injury that might distract the patient from the pain of a cervical spine injury.6

If all of these roles are present, the patient does not need to undergo X-ray because he has a low possibility of having a cervical spine injury with a sensitivity of 99% and a specificity of 12.9%.7

In 2001, the Canadian C-spine rule (CCSR) study developed a second decision rule using the risk factor of the trauma: three high-risk criteria (age $ 65 years, dangerous mechanism and paraesthesias in extremities), five low-risk criteria (simple rear-end motor vehicle collision, sitting position in emergency department, ambulatory at any time, delayed onset of neck pain and absence of midline cervical spine tenderness) and the ability of the patient to actively rotate his or her neck to determine the need for cervical spine radiography. In practice, if one of these risk factors is present, the patient needs to undergo imaging evaluation. On the other hand, if the risk factors are not present, the use of the NEXUS criteria plus a functional evaluation of the cervical spine is needed (left and right cervical spine rotation .45�); if this functional evaluation is possible, imaging is unnecessary. If an incomplete cervical movement is present, then the patient needs to be checked with imaging. The results showed the criteria to have a sensitivity of up to 100% and a specificity of up to 42.5%.8

Applying these criteria, before cervical spine imaging, the authors report a decrease of about 23.9% in the number of negative CCT, and applying a more liberal NEXUS criteria including the presence or absence of pain, limited range of motion or posterolateral cervical spine tenderness, they report a decrease of up to 20.2% in the number of negative studies.2

If these clinical criteria cannot be applied, CCT must be performed.

Major and severe traumas request a direct CCT screening, especially because there could be associated lesions, according to the high-risk criteria developed by Blackmore and Hanson to identify patients with trauma at high risk of c-spine injury who would benefit from CT scanning as the primary radiological investigation9 Figure 1.

Thoracolumbar Spinal Trauma: Standard X-Ray and Multidetector CT Indication

For thoracolumbar level, MDCT is a better examination for depicting spine fractures than conventional radiography. It has wider indication in the diagnosis of patients with thoracolumbar trauma for bone evaluation. It is faster than X-ray, more sensitive, thanks to multiplanar reformatted or volume-rendering reconstruction detecting small cortical fracture, and the sagittal alignment can be evaluated with a wide segment evaluation.10

It can replace conventional radiography and can be performed alone in patients who have sustained severe trauma.10

In fact, thoracolumbar spinal injuries can be detected during visceral organ-targeted CT protocol for blunt traumatic injury.

Figure 4. A 55-year-old female involved in a car accident with acute left cervical brachialgia. The sagittal T2 weighted (a) and axial T2 weighted (b) MRI showed a post-traumatic posterolateral herniated disc with spinal cord compression and soft hyper signal alteration on the C3�C4 spinal cord.

Thanks to multidetector technology, images reconstructed using a soft algorithm and wide-display field of view that covers the entire abdomen using a visceral organ-targeted protocol with 1.5-mm collimation are sufficient for the evaluation of spine fractures in patients with trauma, given that multiplanar reformatted images are provided without performing new CT study and without increasing radiation dose11 Figure 2.

With MDCT there is no information about spinal cord status or ligament lesion or acute epidural haematoma; it can only evaluate bone status. Spinal cord injury is suspected only by clinical data.

CCT is strictly recommended in patients affected by blunt cerebrovascular injuries. Both lesions can be strictly correlated and generally; contrast medium administration to exclude hemorrhagic brain lesion and cervical fracture is not needed.10

Dr Jimenez White Coat

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a medical diagnostic assessment technique utilized in radiology to create pictures of the anatomy and the physiological processes of the human body. Alongside radiography and CT scans, MRI can be helpful in the diagnosis of spinal trauma, including spine fractures and spinal cord injuries. Magnetic resonance imaging may not be necessary for all cases of spinal trauma. However, it could provide detailed information on the other soft tissues of the spine.�

Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T.

Spinal Trauma and MRI

Even if MDCT is the first imaging modality in a patient with trauma, MRI is essential for the soft assessment of the ligament, muscle or spinal cord injury, spinal cord, disc, ligaments and neural elements, especially using T2 weighted sequences with fat suppression or T2 short tau inversion recovery (STIR) sequence.12 MRI is also used to classify burst fracture, obtaining information about the status of the posterior ligamentous complex, a critical determinant of surgical indication even if the diagnosis of ligament injuries remains complex, and its grade is also underestimated using high-field MRI.13

Figure 5. A 65-year-old female involved in domestic trauma with spinal cord symptoms. The sagittal T1 weighted (a) and T2 weighted (b) MRI showed a traumatic T12�L1 spinal cord contusion hypointense on T1 weighted and hyperintense on T2 weighted.

In the management of patients with polytrauma, MDCT total-body scan is necessary in an emergency condition, and�MRI whole-spine indication is secondary to the clinical status of the patient: spinal cord compression syndrome Figure 3�5�MRI protocols recommended for patients affected by spinal injury and trauma are the following:13,14

  • Sagittal T1 weighted, T2 weighted and STIR sequence for the�bone marrow and spinal cord injury or spinal cord compression evaluation owing to epidural haematoma or traumatic herniated disc
  • Sagittal gradient echo T2* sequence for haemorrhage evaluation of the spinal cord or into the epidural�subdural space
  • Sagittal diffusion-weighted imaging helpful when evaluating spinal cord injury, differentiating cytotoxic from vasogenic�oedema, assisting in detecting intramedullary haemorrhage. It can help to evaluate the degree of compressed spinal cord.
  • Axial T1 weighted and T2 weighted sequence for the right localization of the injury. Recently, for patients affected by acute blunt trauma and cervical spinal cord injury, the axial T2 weighted sequence has been shown to be important for trauma-predicting outcomes. On axial T2 weighted imaging, five patterns of intramedullary spinal cord signal alteration can be distinguished at the injury�s epicentre. Ordinal values ranging from 0 to 4 can be assigned to these patterns as Brain�and Spinal Injury Center scores, which encompassed the spectrum of spinal cord injury severity correlating with neurological symptoms and MRI axial T2 weighted imaging. This score improves on current MRI-based prognostic descriptions for spinal cord injury by reflecting functionally and anatomically significant patterns of intramedullary T2 signal abnormality in the axial plane.15
Figure 6. A 20-year-old female involved in domestic trauma with back pain resistance to medical therapy. The standard antero- posterior�laterolateral X-ray (a) showed no vertebral fractures. The MRI showed a bone marrow alteration at lumbar vertebral body hyperintense on T2 weighted (T2W) (a), hypointense on T1 weighted (T1W) (b) and short tau inversion recovery (STIR) (c).

MRI has also an important role in case of discordance between clinical status and CT imaging. In the absence of vertebral fracture, patients can suffer from back pain resistant to medical therapy owing to bone marrow traumatic oedema that can be detected only using STIR sequence on MRI Figure 6.

In spinal cord injury without radiologic abnormalities (SCI- WORA), MRI is the only imaging modality that can detect intramedullary or extramedullary pathologies or show the absence of neuroimaging abnormalities.16 SCIWORA refers to spinal injuries, typically located in the cervical region, in the absence of identifiable bony or ligamentous injury on complete, technically adequate, plain radiographs or CT. SCIWORA should be suspected in patients subjected to blunt trauma who report early or transient symptoms of neurologic deficit or who have existing findings upon initial assessment.17

Vertebral Fracture Type and Classification

The rationale of imaging is to distinguish the vertebral fracture type into two groups:

� vertebral compression fracture as vertebral body fracture
compressing the anterior cortex, sparing the middle posterior
columns associated or not with kyphosis
� burst fracture as comminuted fracture of the vertebral body
extending through both superior and inferior endplates with kyphosis or posterior displacement of the bone into the canal. and to distinguish which type of treatment the patient needs; by imaging, it is possible to classify fractures into stable or�unstable fracture, giving indication to conservative or surgical therapy.

Figure 7. (a�f) A 77-year-old female involved in domestic trauma with back pain resistance to medical therapy. The multidetector CT (a) showed no vertebral fractures. The MRI showed a Magerl A1 fracture with bone marrow oedema at T12�L1 vertebral body hypointense on T1 weighted (b), hyperintense on T2 weighted (c) and short tau inversion recovery (d) treated by vertebroplasty (e�f).
Figure 8. (a�d) A 47-year-old male involved in a motorbike accident with back pain resistance to medical therapy. The MRI showed a Magerl A1 fracture with bone marrow oedema at T12 vertebral body hypointense on T1 weighted (a) hyperintense on T2 weighted (b) and short tau inversion recovery (c) treated by assisted-technique vertebroplasty�vertebral body stenting technique (d).

Using MDCT and MRI, thanks to morphology and injury distribution, various classification systems have been used for identifying those injuries that require surgical intervention, distinguishing among stable and unstable fractures and surgical and non-surgical fractures.1

Denis proposed the �three-column concept�, dividing the spinal segment into three parts: anterior, middle and posterior columns. The anterior column comprises the anterior longitudinal ligament and anterior half of the vertebral body; the middle column comprises the posterior half of the vertebral body and posterior longitudinal ligament; and the posterior column comprises the pedicles, facet joints and supraspinous ligaments. Each column has different contributions to stability, and their damages may affect stability differently. Generally, if two or more of these columns are damaged, the spine becomes unstable.18

Magerl divided the vertebral compression fracture (VCF) into three main categories according to trauma force: (a) compression injury, (b) distraction injury and (c) rotation injury. Type A has conservative or non-surgical mini-invasive treatment indication.19

The thoracolumbar injury classification and severity score (TLICS) system assigns numerical values to each injury based on the categories of morphology of injury, integrity of the posterior ligament and neurological involvement. Stable injury patterns (TLICS,4) may be treated non-operatively with�brace immobilization. Unstable injury patterns (TLICS.4) may be treated operatively with the principles of deformity correction, neurological decompression if necessary and spinal stabilization.20

The Aebi classification is based on three major groups: A = isolated anterior column injuries by axial compression, B = disruption of the posterior ligament complex by distraction posteriorly and C = corresponding to group B but with rotation. There is an increasing severity from A to C, and within each group, the severity usually increases within the subgroups from 1 to 3. All these pathomorphologies are supported by the mechanism of injury, which is responsible for the extent of the injury. The type of injury with its groups and subgroups is able to suggest the treatment modality.21

Thoracolumbar Fracture and Mini-Invasive Vertebral Augmentation Procedure: Imaging Target

Recently, different mini-invasive procedures called assisted- technique vertebroplasty (balloon kyphoplasty KP or kyphoplasty-like techniques) have been developed in order to obtain pain relief and kyphosis correction as alternative treatment for non-surgical but symptomatic vertebral fracture.

The rationale of these techniques is to combine the analgesic and vertebral consolidation effect of vertebroplasty with the restoration of the physiological height of the collapsed vertebral body, reducing the kyphotic deformity of the vertebral body, delivering cement into the fractured vertebral body with a vertebral stabilization effect compared with conservative therapy (bed rest and medical therapy).22

From interventional point of view, imaging has an important role for treatment indication together with clinical evaluation. Both MDCT and MRI are recommended Figure 7 and 8.

In fact, MDCT has the advantage of diagnosing VCF with kyphosis deformity easily, while MRI with STIR sequence is useful to evaluate bone marrow oedema, an important sign of back pain.

Patients affected by vertebral fracture without bone marrow oedema on STIR sequence are not indicated for interventional procedure.

According to imaging, Magerl A1 classification fractures are the main indication of treatment.

However, the treatment must be performed within 2�3 weeks from trauma in order to avoid sclerotic bone response: the younger the fractures, the better the results and easier the treatment and vertebral augmentation effect. To exclude sclerotic bone reaction, CT is recommended.


The management of spinal trauma remains complex. MDCT has a wide indication for bone evaluation in patients affected by severe trauma or patients with high risk of spine injury. MRI has a major indication in the case of spinal cord injury and the absence of bone lesion. Diagnostic assessment of spinal trauma, including radiography, CT scans, and MRI are fundamental towards the diagnosis of spine fractures and spinal cord injury for treatment. The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic as well as to spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at�915-850-0900�.

Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez

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Additional Topics: Acute Back Pain

Back pain�is one of the most prevalent causes of disability and missed days at work worldwide. Back pain attributes to the second most common reason for doctor office visits, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. Approximately 80 percent of the population will experience back pain at least once throughout their life. The spine is a complex structure made up of bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles, among other soft tissues. Because of this, injuries and/or aggravated conditions, such as�herniated discs, can eventually lead to symptoms of back pain. Sports injuries or automobile accident injuries are often the most frequent cause of back pain, however, sometimes the simplest of movements can have painful results. Fortunately, alternative treatment options, such as chiropractic care, can help ease back pain through the use of spinal adjustments and manual manipulations, ultimately improving pain relief.


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EXTRA IMPORTANT TOPIC: Sciatica Pain Chiropractic Therapy

  1. Pneumaticos SG, Triantafyllopoulos GK, Gian- noudis PV. Advances made in the treatment of thoracolumbar fractures: current trends and future directions. Injury 2013; 44: 703�12. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2012.12.005

  2. Griffith B, Bolton C, Goyal N, Brown ML, Jain R. Screening cervical spine CT in a level I trauma center: overutilization? AJR Am J Roentgenol 2011; 197: 463�7.doi: 10.2214/ AJR.10.5731

  3. Hanson JA, Blackmore CC, Mann FA, Wilson AJ. Cervical spine injury: a clinical decision rule to identify high-risk patients for helical CTscreening. AJR Am J Roentgenol 2000; 174: 713�17.

  4. Saltzherr TP, Fung Kon Jin PH, Beenen LF, Vandertop WP, Goslings JC. Diagnostic imaging of cervical spine injuries following blunt trauma: a review of the literature and practical guideline. Injury 2009; 40: 795�800. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2009.01.015

  5. Holmes JF, Akkinepalli R. Computed to- mography versus plain radiography to screen for cervical spine injury: a meta-analysis. J Trauma 2005; 58: 902�5. doi: 10.1097/01. TA.0000162138.36519.2A

  6. Hoffman JR, Wolfson AB, Todd K, Mower WR. Selective cervical spine radiography in blunt trauma: methodology of the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study (NEXUS). Ann Emerg Med 1998; 32: 461�9. doi: 10.1016/S0196-0644(98)70176-3

  7. Dickinson G, Stiell IG, Schull M, Brison R, Clement CM, Vandemheen KL, et al. Retro- spective application of the NEXUS low-risk criteria for cervical spine radiography in Canadian emergency departments. Ann Emerg Med 2004; 43: 507�14. doi: 10.1016/j. annemergmed.2003.10.036

  8. Stiell IG, Wells GA, Vandemheen KL, Clem- ent CM, Lesiuk H, De Maio VJ, et al. The Canadian C-spine rule for radiography in

alert and stable trauma patients. JAMA 2001;

286: 1841�8. doi: 10.1001/jama.286.15.1841 9. Berne JD, Velmahos GC, El-Tawil Q, Deme- triades D, Asensio JA, Murray JA, et al. Value

of complete cervical helical computed to- mographic scanning in identifying cervical spine injury in the unevaluable blunt trauma patient with multiple injuries: a prospective study. J Trauma 1999; 47: 896�902. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199911000-00014

10. Wintermark M, Mouhsine E, Theumann N, Mordasini P, van Melle G, Leyvraz PF, et al. Thoracolumbar spine fractures in patients who have sustained severe trauma: depiction with multi-detector row CT. Radiology 2003; 227: 681�9. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2273020592

11. Kim S, Yoon CS, Ryu JA, Lee S, Park YS, Kim SS, et al. A comparison of the diagnostic performances of visceral organ-targeted ver- sus spine-targeted protocols for the evalua- tion of spinal fractures using sixteen-channel multidetector row computed tomography: is additional spine-targeted computed tomog- raphy necessary to evaluate thoracolumbar spinal fractures in blunt trauma victims? J Trauma 2010; 69: 437�46. doi: 10.1097/ TA.0b013e3181e491d8

12. Pizones J, Castillo E. Assessment of acute thoracolumbar fractures: challenges in mul- tidetector computed tomography and added value of emergency MRI. Semin Musculoskelet Radiol 2013; 17: 389�95. doi: 10.1055/s- 0033-1356468

13. Emery SE, Pathria MN, Wilber RG, Masaryk T, Bohlman HH. Magnetic resonance imag- ing of posttraumatic spinal ligament injury. J Spinal Disord 1989; 2: 229�33. doi: 10.1097/ 00002517-198912000-00003

14. Zhang JS, Huan Y. Multishot diffusion- weighted MR imaging features in acute trauma of spinal cord. Eur Radiol 2014; 24: 685�92. doi: 10.1007/s00330-013-3051-3

15. Talbott JF, Whetstone WD, Readdy WJ, Ferguson AR, Bresnahan JC, Saigal R, et al. The Brain and Spinal Injury Center score:
a novel, simple, and reproducible method for assessing the severity of acute cervical spinal cord injury with axial T2-weighted MRI findings. J Neurosurg Spine 2015; 23: 495�504. doi: 10.3171/2015.1.SPINE141033

16. Boese CK, Oppermann J, Siewe J, Eysel P, Scheyerer MJ, Lechler PJ. Spinal cord injury without radiologic abnormality in children: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Trauma Acute Care Surg 2015; 78: 874�82. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000000579

17. Brown RL, Brunn MA, Garcia VF. Cervical spine injuries in children: a review of
103 patients treated consecutively at a level 1 pediatric trauma center. J Pediatr Surg 2001; 36: 1107�14. doi: 10.1053/jpsu.2001.25665

18. Denis F. The three column spine and its significance in the classification of acute thoracolumbar spinal injuries. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 1983; 8: 817�31. doi: 10.1097/ 00007632-198311000-00003

19. Magerl F, Aebi M, Gertzbein SD, Harms J, Nazarian S. A comprehensive classification of thoracic and lumbar injuries. Eur Spine J 1994; 3: 184�201.

20. Patel AA, Dailey A, Brodke DS, Daubs M, Harrop J, Whang PG, et al; Spine Trauma Study Group. Thoracolumbar spine trauma classification: the Thoracolumbar Injury Classification and Severity Score system and case examples. J Neurosurg Spine 2009; 10: 201�6. doi: 10.3171/2008.12.SPINE08388

21. Aebi M. Classification of thoracolumbar fractures and dislocations. Eur Spine J 2010; 19(Suppl. 1): S2�7. doi: 10.1007/s00586-009-1114-6

22. Muto M, Marcia S, Guarnieri G, Pereira V. Assisted techniques for vertebral cementoplasty: why should we do it? Eur J Radiol 2015; 84: 783�8. doi: 10.1016/j.ejrad.2014.04.002

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Lumbar Disc Nomenclature: Version 2.0

Lumbar Disc Nomenclature: Version 2.0

What is a Herniated Disc?

The spine is made up of 24 bones, called vertebrae, which are stacked on top of one another. These spinal bones are ultimately connected, creating a canal to protect the spinal cord. In between each vertebra are fluid-filled intervertebral discs which act as shock absorbers for the spine. Over time, however, these flexible, jelly donut-like discs can begin to herniate, where the nucleus of the intervertebral disc pushes against its outer ring, causing low back pain. Below, we will demonstrate the various types of herniated discs and discuss their causes, symptoms and treatment options.


Background Context

The paper ��Nomenclature and classification of lumbar disc pathology, recommendations of the combined task forces of the North American Spine Society, the American Society of Spine Radiology and the American Society of Neuroradiology,�� was published in 2001 in Spine (� Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins). It was authored by David Fardon, MD, and Pierre Milette, MD, and formally endorsed by the American Society of Spine Radiology (ASSR), American Society of Neuroradiology (ASNR), and North American Spine Society (NASS). Its purpose was to promote greater clarity and consistency of usage of spinal terminology, and it has served this purpose well for over a decade. Since 2001, there has been sufficient evolution in our understanding of the lumbar disc to suggest the need for revision and updating of the original document. The revised document is presented here, and it represents the consensus recommendations of contemporary combined task forces of the ASSR, ASNR, and NASS. This article reflects changes consistent with current concepts in radiologic and clinical care.


To provide a resource that promotes a clear understanding of lumbar disc terminology amongst clinicians, radiologists, and researchers. All the concerned need standard terms for the normal and pathologic conditions of lumbar discs that can be used accurately and consistently and thus best serve patients with disc disorders.

Study Design

This article comprises a review of the literature.


A PubMed search was performed for literature pertaining to the lumbar disc. The task force members individually and collectively reviewed the literature and revised the 2001 document. The revised document was then submitted for review to the governing boards of the ASSR, ASNR, and NASS. After further revision based on the feedback from the governing boards, the article was approved for publication by the governing boards of the three societies, as representative of the consensus recommendations of the societies.


The article provides a discussion of the recommended diagnostic categories pertaining to the lumbar disc: normal; congenital/developmental variation; degeneration; trauma; infection/inflammation; neoplasia; and/or morphologic variant of uncertain significance. The article provides a glossary of terms pertaining to the lumbar disc, a detailed discussion of these terms, and their recommended usage. Terms are described as preferred, nonpreferred, nonstandard, and colloquial. Updated illustrations pictorially portray certain key terms. Literature references that provided the basis for the task force recommendations are included.


We have revised and updated a document that, since 2001, has provided a widely acceptable nomenclature that helps maintain consistency and accuracy in the description of the anatomic and physiologic properties of the normal and abnormal lumbar disc and that serves as a system for classification and reporting built upon that nomenclature.


Annular fissure, Annular tear, Disc bulge (bulging disc), Disc degeneration, Disc extrusion, Disc herniation, Disc nomenclature, Disc protrusion, High-intensity zone, Lumbar intervertebral disc


The nomenclature and classification of lumbar disc pathology consensus, published in 2001, by the collaborative efforts of the North American Spine Society (NASS), the American Society of Spine Radiology (ASSR) and the American Society of Neuroradiology (ASNR), has guided radiologists, clinicians, and interested public for over a decade [1]. This document has passed the test of time. Responding to an initiative from the ASSR, a task force of spine physicians from the ASSR, ASNR, and NASS has reviewed and modified the document. This revised document preserves the format and most of the language of the original, with changes consistent with current concepts in radiologic and clinical care. The modifications deal primarily with the following: updating and expansion of Text, Glossary, and References to meet contemporary needs; revision of Figures to provide greater clarity; emphasis of the term ��annular fissure�� in place of ��annular tear��; refinement of the definitions of ��acute�� and ��chronic�� disc herniations; revision of the distinction between disc herniation and asymmetrically bulging disc; elimination of the Tables in favor of greater clarity from the revised Text and Figures; and deletion of the section of Reporting and Coding because of frequent changes in those practices, which are best addressed by other publications. Several other minor amendments have been made. This revision will update a workable standard nomenclature, accepted and used universally by imaging and clinical physicians.

Introduction and History

Physicians need standard terms for normal and pathologic conditions of lumbar discs [2, 3, 4, 5]. Terms that can be interpreted accurately, consistently, and with reasonable precision are particularly important for communicating impressions gained from imaging for clinical diagnostic and therapeutic decision-making. Although clear understanding of the disc terminology between radiologists and clinicians is the focus of this work, such understanding can be critical, also to patients, families, employers, insurers, jurists, social planners, and researchers.

In 1995, a multidisciplinary task force from the NASS addressed the deficiencies in commonly used terms defining the conditions of the lumbar disc. It cited several documentations of the problem [6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11] and made detailed recommendations for standardization. Its work was published in a copublication of the NASS and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons [9]. The work had not been otherwise endorsed by major organizations and had not been recognized as authoritative by radiology organizations. Many previous [3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19] and some subsequent [20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25] efforts addressed the issues, but were of more limited scope and none had gained a widespread acceptance.

Although the NASS 1995 effort was the most comprehensive at the time, it remained deficient in clarifying some controversial topics, lacking in its treatment of some issues, and did not provide recommendations for standardization of classification and reporting. To address the remaining needs, and in hopes of securing endorsement sufficient to result in universal standardizations, joint task forces (Co-Chairs David Fardon, MD, and Pierre Milette, MD) were formed by the NASS, ASNR, and ASSR, resulting in the first version of the document ��Nomenclature and classification of lumbar disc pathology�� [1]. Since then, time and experience suggested the need for revisions and updating of the original document. The revised document is presented here.

The general principles that guided the original document remain unchanged in this revision. The definitions are based on the anatomy and pathology, primarily as visualized on imaging studies. Recognizing that some criteria, under some circumstances, may be unknowable to the observer, the definitions of the terms are not dependent on or imply the value of specific tests. The definitions of diagnoses are not intended to imply external etiologic events such as trauma, they do not imply relationship to symptoms, and they do not define or imply the need for specific treatment.

The task forces, both current and former, worked from a model that could be expanded from a primary purpose of providing understanding of reports of imaging studies. The result provides a simple classification of diagnostic terms, which can be expanded, without contradiction, into more precise subclassifications. When reporting pathology, degrees of uncertainty would be labeled as such rather than compromising the definitions of the terms.

All terms used in the classifications and subclassifications are defined and those definitions are adhered to throughout the model. For a practical purpose, some existing English terms are given meanings different from those found in some contemporary dictionaries. The task forces provide a list and classification of the recommended terms, but, recognizing the nature of language practices, discuss and include in the Glossary, commonly used and misused nonrecommended terms and nonstandard definitions.

Although the principles and most of the definitions of this document can be easily extrapolated to the cervical and dorsal spine, the focus is on the lumbar spine. Although clarification of terms related to posterior elements, dimensions of the spinal canal, and status of neural tissues is needed, this work is limited to the discussion of the disc. While it is not always possible to discuss fully the definition of anatomical and pathologic terms without some reference to symptoms and etiology, the definitions themselves stand the test of independence from etiology, symptoms, or treatment. Because of the focus on anatomy and pathology, this work does not define certain clinical syndromes that may be related to lumbar disc pathology [26].

Guided by those principles, we have revised and updated a document that, since 2001, has provided a widely acceptable nomenclature that is workable for all forms of observation, that addresses contour, content, integrity, organization, and spatial relationships of the lumbar disc; and that serves a system of classification and reporting built upon that nomenclature.

Diagnostic Category & Subcategory Recommendations

These recommendations present diagnostic categories and subcategories intended for classification and reporting of imaging studies. The terminology used throughout these recommended categories and subcategories remains consistent with detailed explanations given in the Discussion and with the preferred definitions presented in the Glossary.

The diagnostic categories are based on pathology. Each lumbar disc can be classified in terms of one, and occasionally more than one, of the following diagnostic categories: normal; congenital/developmental variation; degeneration; trauma; infection/inflammation; neoplasia; and/or morphologic variant of uncertain significance. Each diagnostic category can be subcategorized to various degrees of specificity according to the information available and purpose to be served. The data available for categorization may lead the reporter to characterize the interpretation as ��possible,�� ��probable,�� or ��definite.��

Note that some terms and definitions discussed below are not recommended as preferred terminology, but are included to facilitate the interpretation of vernacular and, in some cases, improper use. Terms may be defined as preferred, nonpreferred, or nonstandard. Nonstandard terms by consensus of the organizational task forces should not be used in the manner described.


Normal defines discs that are morphologically normal, without the consideration of the clinical context and not inclusive of degenerative, developmental, or adaptive changes that could, in some contexts (eg, normal aging, scoliosis, spondylolisthesis), be considered clinically normal (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Normal lumbar disc. (Top Left) Axial, (Top Right) sagittal, and (Bottom) coronal images demonstrate that the normal disc, composed of central NP and peripheral AF, is wholly within the boundaries of the disc space, as defined, craniad and caudad by the vertebral body end plates and peripherally by the planes of the outer edges of the vertebral apophyses, exclusive of osteophytes. NP, nucleus pulposus; AF, annulus fibrosus.

Congenital/Developmental Variation

The congenital/developmental variation category includes discs that are congenitally abnormal or that have undergone changes in their morphology as an adaptation of abnormal growth of the spine, such as from scoliosis or spondylolisthesis.


Degenerative changes in the discs are included in a broad category that includes the subcategories annular fissure, degeneration, and herniation.

Annular fissures are separations between the annular fibers or separations of annular fibers from their attachments to the vertebral bone. Fissures are sometimes classified by their orientation. A ��concentric fissure�� is a separation or delamination of annular fibers parallel to the peripheral contour of the disc (Fig. 2). A ��radial fissure�� is a vertically, horizontally, or obliquely oriented separation of (or rent in) annular fibers that extends from the nucleus peripherally to or through the annulus. A ��transverse fissure�� is a horizontally oriented radial fissure, but the term is sometimes used in a narrower sense to refer to a horizontally oriented fissure limited to the peripheral annulus that may include separation of annular fibers from the apophyseal bone. Relatively wide annular fissures, with stretch of the residual annular margin, at times including avulsion of an annular fragment, have sometimes been called ��annular gaps,�� a term that is relatively new and not accepted as standard [27]. The term ��fissures�� describes the spectrum of these lesions and does not imply that the lesion is a consequence of injury.

Figure 2: Fissures of the annulus fibrosus. Fissures of the annulus fibrosus occur as radial (R), transverse (T), and/or concentric (C) separations of fibers of the annulus. The transverse fissure depicted is a fully developed, horizontally oriented radial fissure; the term ��transverse fissure�� is often applied to a less extensive separation limited to the peripheral annulus and its bony attachments.

Use of the term ��tear�� can be misunderstood because the analogy to other tears has a connotation of injury, which is inappropriate in this context. The term ��fissure�� is the correct term. Use of the term ��tear�� should be discouraged and, when it appears, should be recognized that it is usually meant to be synonymous with ��fissure�� and not reflective of the result of injury. The original version of this document stated preference for the term ��fissure�� but regarded the two terms as almost synonymous. However, in this revision, we regard the term ��tear�� as nonstandard usage.

Degeneration may include any or all of the following: desiccation, fibrosis, narrowing of the disc space, diffuse bulging of the annulus beyond the disc space, fissuring (ie, annular fissures), mucinous degeneration of the annulus, intradiscal gas [28], osteophytes of the vertebral apophyses, defects, inflammatory changes, and sclerosis of the end plates [15, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34].

Herniation is broadly defined as a localized or focal displacement of disc material beyond the limits of the intervertebral disc space. The disc material may be nucleus, cartilage, fragmented apophyseal bone, annular tissue, or any combination thereof. The disc space is defined craniad and caudad by the vertebral body end plates and, peripherally, by the outer edges of the vertebral ring apophyses, exclusive of osteophytes. The term ��localized�� or ��focal�� refers to the extension of the disc material less than 25% (90�) of the periphery of the disc as viewed in the axial plane.

The presence of disc tissue extending beyond the edges of the ring apophyses, throughout the circumference of the disc, is called ��bulging�� and is not considered a form of herniation (Fig. 3, Top Right). Asymmetric bulging of disc tissue greater than 25% of the disc circumference (Fig. 3, Bottom), often seen as an adaptation to adjacent deformity, is, also, not a form of herniation. In evaluating the shape of the disc for a herniation in an axial plane, the shape of the two adjacent vertebrae must be considered [15, 35].

Figure 3: Bulging disc. (Top Left) Normal disc (for comparison); no disc material extends beyond the periphery of the disc space, depicted here by the broken line. (Top Right) Symmetric bulging disc; annular tissue extends, usually by less than 3 mm, beyond the edges of the vertebral apophyses symmetrically throughout the circumference of the disc. (Bottom) Asymmetric bulging disc; annular tissue extends beyond the edges of the vertebral apophysis, asymmetrically greater than 25% of the circumference of the disc.

Herniated discs may be classified as protrusion or extrusion, based on the shape of the displaced material.

Protrusion is present if the greatest distance between the edges of the disc material presenting outside the disc space is less than the distance between the edges of the base of that disc material extending outside the disc space. The base is defined as the width of disc material at the outer margin of the disc space of origin, where disc material displaced beyond the disc space is continuous with the disc material within the disc space (Fig. 4). Extrusion is present when, in at least one plane, any one distance between the edges of the disc material beyond the disc space is greater than the distance between the edges of the base of the disc material beyond the disc space or when no continuity exists between the disc material beyond the disc space and that within the disc space (Fig. 5). The latter form of extrusion is best further specified or subclassified as sequestration if the displaced disc material has lost continuity completely with the parent disc (Fig. 6). The term migration may be used to signify displacement of disc material away from the site of extrusion. Herniated discs in the craniocaudad (vertical) direction through a gap in the vertebral body end plate are referred to as intravertebral herniations (Schmorl nodes) (Fig. 7).

Figure 4: Herniated disc: protrusion. (Left) Axial and (Right) sagittal images demonstrate displaced disc material extending beyond less than 25% of the disc space, with the greatest measure, in any plane, of the displaced disc material being less than the measure of the base of displaced disc material at the disc space of origin, measured in the same plane.
Figure 5: Herniated disc: extrusion. (Left) Axial and (Right) sagittal images demonstrate that the greatest measure of the displaced disc material is greater than the base of the displaced disc material at the disc space of origin, when measured in the same plane.
Figure 6: Herniated disc: sequestration. (Left) Axial and (Right) sagittal images show that a sequestrated disc is an extruded disc in which the displaced disc material has lost all connection with the disc of origin.
Figure 7:�Intravertebral herniation (Schmorl node). Disc material is displaced beyond the disc space through the vertebral end plate into the vertebral body, as shown here in sagittal projection

Disc herniations may be further specifically categorized as contained, if the displaced portion is covered by outer annulus fibers and/or the posterior longitudinal ligament, or uncontained when absent of any such covering. If the margins of the disc protrusion are smooth on axial computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), then the displaced disc material is likely contained by the posterior longitudinal ligament and perhaps a few superficial posterior annular fibers [21, 35, 36, 37]. If the posterior margin of the disc protrusion is irregular, the herniation is likely uncontained. Displaced disc tissue is typically described by location, volume, and content, as discussed later in this document.

An alternative scheme of distinguishing protrusion from extrusion is discussed in the Discussion section.


The category of trauma includes disruption of the disc associated with physical and/or imaging evidence of violent fracture and/or dislocation and does not include repetitive injury, contribution of less than violent trauma to the degenerative process, fragmentation of the ring apophysis in conjunction with disc herniation, or disc abnormalities in association with degenerative subluxations. Whether or not a ��less than violent�� injury has contributed to or been superimposed on a degenerative change is a clinical judgment that cannot be made based on images alone; therefore, from the standpoint of description of images, such discs, in the absence of significant imaging evidence of associated violent injury, should be classified as degeneration rather than trauma.


The category of inflammation/infection includes infection, infection-like inflammatory discitis, and inflammatory response to spondyloarthropathy. It also includes inflammatory spondylitis of the subchondral end plate and bone marrow manifested by Modic Type I MRI changes [29, 30, 38] and usually associated with degenerative pathologic changes in the disc. To simplify the classification scheme, the category is inclusive of disparate conditions; therefore, when data permit, the diagnosis should be subcategorized for appropriate specificity.


Primary or metastatic morphologic changes of disc tissues caused by malignancy are categorized as neoplasia, with subcategorization for appropriate specificity.

Miscellaneous Paradiscal Masses of Uncertain Origin

Although most intraspinal cysts are of meningeal or synovial origin, a minority arise from the disc and create a paradiscal mass that does not contain nuclear material. Epidural bleeding and/or edema, unrelated to trauma or other known origin may create a paradiscal mass or may increase the size of herniated disc material. Such cysts and hematomas may be seen acutely and unaccompanied by other pathology or may be a component of chronic disc pathology.

Morphologic�Variant of Unknown Significance

Instances in which data suggest abnormal morphology of the disc, but in which data are not complete enough to support a diagnostic categorization can be categorized as a morphologic variant of unknown significance.

Discussion of Nomenclature in Detail

This document provides a nomenclature that facilitates the description of surgical, endoscopic, or cadaveric findings as well as imaging findings; and also, with the caveat that it addresses only the morphology of the disc, it facilitates communication for patients, families, employers, insurers, and legal and social authorities and permits accumulation of more reliable data for research.

Normal Disc

Categorization of a disc as ��normal�� means the disc is fully and normally developed and free of any changes of disease, trauma, or aging. Only the morphology, and not the clinical context, is considered. Clinically ��normal�� (asymptomatic) people may have a variety of harmless imaging findings, including congenital or developmental variations of discs, minor bulging of the annuli, age-related desiccation, anterior and lateral marginal vertebral body osteophytes, prominence of disc material beyond one end plate as a result of luxation of one vertebral body relative to the adjacent vertebral body (especially common at L5�S1), and so on [39]. By this article�s morphology-based nomenclature and classification, however, such individual discs are not considered ��normal,�� but rather are described by their morphologic characteristics, independent of their clinical import unless otherwise specified.

Disc with Fissures of the Annulus

There is a general agreement about the various forms of loss of integrity of the annulus, such as radial, transverse, and concentric fissures. Yu et al. [40] have shown that annular fissures, including radial, concentric, and transverse types, are present in nearly all degenerated discs [41]. If the disc is dehydrated on an MRI scan, it is likely that there is at least one or more small fissures in the annulus. Relatively wide, radially directed annular fissures, with stretch of the residual annular margin, at times involving avulsion of an annular fragment, have sometimes been called ��annular gaps,�� although the term is relatively new and not accepted as a standard [27].

The terms ��annular fissure�� and ��annular tear�� have been applied to the findings on T2-weighted MRI scans of localized high intensity zones (HIZ) within the annulus [30, 42, 43, 44]. High intensity zones represent fluid and/or granulation tissue and may enhance with gadolinium. Fissures occur in all degenerative discs but are not all visualized as HIZs. Discography reveals some fissures not seen by the MRI, but not all fissures are visualized by discography. Description of the imaging findings is most accurate when limited to the observation of an HIZ or discographically demonstrated fissure, with the understood caveat that there is an incomplete concordance with the HIZs, discogram images, and anatomically observed fissures.

As far back as the 1995 NASS document, authors have recommended that such lesions be termed ��fissures�� rather than ��tears,�� primarily out of concern that the word ��tear�� could be misconstrued as implying a traumatic etiology [9, 30, 45, 46]. Because of potential misunderstanding of the term ��annular tear,�� and consequent presumption that the finding of an annular fissure indicates that there has been an injury, the term ��annular tear�� should be considered nonstandard and ��annular fissure�� be the preferred term. Imaging observation of an annular fissure does not imply an injury or related symptoms, but simply defines the morphologic change in the annulus.

Degenerated Disc

Because there is a confusion in the differentiation of changes of pathologic degenerative processes in the disc from those of normal aging [17, 31, 47, 48, 49], the classification ��degenerated disc�� includes all such changes, thus does not compel the observer to differentiate the pathologic from the normal consequence of aging.

Perceptions of what constitutes the normal aging process of the spine have been greatly influenced by postmortem anatomic studies involving a limited number of specimens, harvested from cadavers from different age groups, with unknown past medical histories and the presumption of absence of lumbar symptoms [23, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57]. With such methods, pathologic change is easily confused with consequences of normal aging. Resnick and Niwayama [31] emphasized the differentiating features of two degenerative processes involving the intervertebral disc that had been previously described by Schmorl and Junghanns [58]; ��spondylosis deformans,�� which affects essentially the annulus fibrosus and adjacent apophyses (Fig. 8, Left) and ��intervertebral osteochondrosis,�� which affects mainly the nucleus pulposus and the vertebral body end plates and may include extensive fissuring of the annulus fibrosus that may be followed by atrophy (Fig. 8, Right). Although Resnick and Niwayama stated that the cause of the two entities was unknown, other studies suggest that spondylosis deformans is the consequence of normal aging, whereas intervertebral osteochondrosis, sometimes also called ��deteriorated disc,�� results from a clearly pathologic, although not necessarily symptomatic, process [29, 31, 42, 59, 60].

Figure 8:�Types of disc degeneration by radiographic criteria. (Left) Spondylosis deformans is manifested by apophyseal osteophytes, with relative preservation of the disc space. (Right) Intervertebral osteochondrosis is typified by disc space narrowing, severe fissuring, and end plate cartilage erosion.

Degrees of disc degeneration have been graded based on gross morphology of midsagittal sections of the lumbar spine (Thompson scheme) [19]; postdiscography CT observations of integrity of the interior of the disc (Dallas classification) (Fig. 9) [42]; MRI observations of vertebral body marrow changes adjacent to the disc (Modic classification) [30], (Fig. 10); and MRI-revealed changes in the nucleus (Pfirrmann classification) [61]. Various modifications of these schemes have been proposed to suit specific clinical and research needs [17, 35, 62, 63].

Figure 9:�Internal disc integrity. The extent of radial fissuring, as visualized on postdiscography CT, graded 0 to 5 by the Modified Dallas Discogram classification, as depicted.
Figure 10:�Reactive vertebral body marrow changes. These bone marrow signal changes adjacent to a degenerated disc on magnetic resonance imaging. T1- and T2-weighted sequences are frequently classified as (Top Left) Modic I, (Top Right) Modic II, or (Bottom) Modic III.

Herniated Disc

The needs of common practices make necessary a diagnostic term that describes disc material beyond the intervertebral disc space. Herniated disc, herniated nucleus pulposus (HNP), ruptured disc, prolapsed disc (used nonspecifically), protruded disc (used nonspecifically), and bulging disc (used nonspecifically) have all been used in the literature in various ways to denote imprecisely defined displacement of disc material beyond the interspace. The absence of clear understanding of the meaning of these terms and the lack of definition of limits that should be placed on an ideal general term have created a great deal of confusion in clinical practice and in attempts to make meaningful comparisons of research studies.

For the general diagnosis of displacement of disc material, the single term that is most commonly used and creates least confusion is ��herniated disc.�� ��Herniated nucleus pulposus�� is inaccurate because materials other than nucleus (cartilage, fragmented apophyseal bone, and fragmented annulus) are common components of displaced disc material [64]. ��Rupture�� casts an image of tearing apart and therefore carries more implication of traumatic etiology than ��herniation,�� which conveys an image of displacement rather than disruption.

Though ��protrusion�� has been used by some authors in a nonspecific general sense to signify any displacement, the term has a more commonly used specific meaning for which it is best reserved. ��Prolapse,�� which has been used as a general term, as synonymous with the specific meaning of protrusion, or to denote inferior migration of extruded disc material, is not frequently used in a way to provide specific meaning and is best regarded as nonstandard, in deference to the more specific terms ��protrusion�� and ��extrusion.��

By exclusion of other terms, and by reasons of simplicity and common usage, ��herniated disc�� is the best general term to denote displacement of disc material. The term is appropriate to denote the general diagnostic category when referring to a specific disc and to be inclusive of various types of displacements when speaking of groups of discs. The term includes discs that may properly be characterized by more specific terms, such as ��protruded disc�� or ��extruded disc.�� The term ��herniated disc,�� as defined in this work, refers to localized displacement of nucleus, cartilage, fragmented apophyseal bone, or fragmented annular tissue beyond the intervertebral disc space. ��Localized�� is defined as less than 25% of the disc circumference. The disc space is defined, craniad and caudad, by the vertebral body end plates and, peripherally, by the edges of the vertebral ring apophyses, exclusive of the osteophyte formation. This definition was deemed more practical, especially for the interpretation of imaging studies, than a pathologic definition requiring identification of disc material forced out of normal position through an annular defect. Displacement of disc material, either through a fracture or defect in the bony end plate or in conjunction with displaced fragments of fractured walls of the vertebral body, may be described as ��herniated�� disc, although such description should accompany description of the fracture so as to avoid confusion with primary herniation of disc material. Displacement of disc materials from one location to another within the interspace, as with intraannular migration of nucleus without displacement beyond the interspace, is not considered herniation.

To be considered ��herniated,�� disc material must be displaced from its normal location and not simply represent an acquired growth beyond the edges of the apophyses, as is the case when connective tissues develop in gaps between osteophytes or when annular tissue is displaced behind one vertebra as an adaptation to subluxation. Herniation, therefore, can only occur in association with disruption of the normal annulus or, as in the case of intravertebral herniation (Schmorl node), a defect in the vertebral body end plate.

Details of the internal architecture of the annulus are most often not visualized by even the best quality MRIs [21]. The distinction of herniation is made by the observation of displacement of disc material beyond the edges of the ring apophysis that is ��focal�� or ��localized,�� meaning less than 25% of the circumference of the disc. The 25% cutoff line is established by way of convention to lend precision to terminology and does not designate etiology, relation to symptoms, or treatment indications.

The terms ��bulge�� or ��bulging�� refer to a generalized extension of disc tissue beyond the edges of the apophyses [65]. Such bulging involves greater than 25% of the circumference of the disc and typically extends a relatively short distance, usually less than 3 mm, beyond the edges of the apophyses (Fig. 3). ��Bulge�� or ��bulging�� describes a morphologic characteristic of various possible causes. Bulging is sometimes a normal variant (usually at L5�S1), can result from an advanced disc degeneration or from a vertebral body remodeling (as consequent to osteoporosis, trauma, or adjacent structure deformity), can occur with ligamentous laxity in response to loading or angular motion, can be an illusion caused by posterior central subligamentous disc protrusion, or can be an illusion from volume averaging (particularly with CT axial images).

Bulging, by definition, is not a herniation. Application of the term ��bulging�� to a disc does not imply any knowledge of etiology, prognosis, or need for treatment or imply the presence of symptoms.

A disc may have, simultaneously, more than one herniation. A disc herniation may be present along with other degenerative changes, fractures, or abnormalities of the disc. The term ��herniated disc�� does not imply any knowledge of etiology, relation to symptoms, prognosis, or need for treatment.

When data are sufficient to make the distinction, a herniated disc may be more specifically characterized as ��protruded�� or ��extruded.�� These distinctions are based on the shape of the displaced material. They do not imply knowledge of the mechanism by which the changes occurred.

Protruded Discs

Disc protrusions are focal or localized abnormalities of the disc margin that involve less than 25% of the disc circumference. A disc is ��protruded�� if the greatest dimension between the edges of the disc material presenting beyond the disc space is less than the distance between the edges of the base of that disc material that extends outside the disc space. The base is defined as the width of the disc material at the outer margin of the disc space of origin, where disc material displaced beyond the disc space is continuous with the disc material within the disc space (Fig. 4). The term ��protrusion�� is only appropriate in describing herniated disc material, as discussed previously.

Extruded Discs

The term ��extruded�� is consistent with the lay language meaning of material forced from one domain to another through an aperture [37, 64]. With reference to a disc, the test of extrusion is the judgment that, in at least one plane, any one distance between the edges of the disc material beyond the disc space is greater than the distance between the edges of the base measured in the same plane or when no continuity exists between the disc material beyond the disc space and that within the disc space (Fig. 5). Extruded disc material that has no continuity with the disc of origin may be characterized as ��sequestrated�� [53, 66] (Fig. 6). A sequestrated disc is a subtype of ��extruded disc�� but, by definition, can never be a ��protruded disc.�� Extruded disc material that is displaced away from the site of extrusion, regardless of continuity with the disc, may be called ��migrated,�� a term that is useful for the interpretation of imaging studies because it is often impossible from images to know if continuity exists.

The aforementioned distinctions between protrusion and extrusion and between contained and uncontained are based on common practice and wide acceptance of the definitions in the original version of this document. Another set of criteria, espoused by some respected practitioners, defines extrusion as uncontained and protrusion as a persistence of containment, regardless of the relative dimensions of the base to displaced portion of disc material. Per these criteria, a disc extrusion can be identified by the presence of a continuous line of low signal intensity surrounding the disc herniation. They state that current advanced imaging permits this basis of distinction and that the presence or absence of containment has more clinical relevance than the morphology of the displaced material [35].

Whether their method will prove superior to the currently recommended method will be determined by future study. The use of the distinction between ��protrusion�� and ��extrusion�� is optional and some observers may prefer to use, in all cases, the more general term ��herniation.�� Further distinctions can often be made regarding containment, continuity, volume, composition, and location of the displaced disc material.

Containment, Continuity, and Migration

Herniated disc material can be ��contained�� or ��uncontained.�� The test of containment is whether the displaced disc tissues are wholly held within intact outer annulus and/or posterior longitudinal ligament fibers. Fluid or any contrast that has been injected into a disc with a ��contained�� herniation would not be expected to leak into the vertebral canal. Although the posterior longitudinal ligament and/or peridural membrane may partially cover the extruded disc tissues, such discs are not considered ��contained�� unless the posterior longitudinal ligament is intact. The technical limitations of currently available noninvasive imaging modalities (CT and MRI) often preclude the distinction of a contained from an uncontained disc herniation. CT-discography does not always allow one to distinguish whether the herniated components of a disc are contained, but only whether there is a communication between the disc space and the vertebral canal.

Displaced disc fragments are sometimes characterized as ��free.�� A ��free fragment�� is synonymous with a ��sequestrated fragment,�� but not synonymous with ��uncontained.�� A disc fragment should be considered ��free�� or ��sequestrated�� only if there is no remaining continuity of the disc material between it and the disc of origin. A disc can be ��uncontained,�� with the loss of integrity of the posterior longitudinal ligament and the outer annulus, but still have continuity between the herniated/displaced disc material and the disc of origin.

The term ��migrated�� disc or fragment refers to the displacement of most of the displaced disc material away from the opening in the annulus through which the material has extruded. Some migrated fragments will be sequestrated, but the term ��migrated�� refers only to position and not to continuity.

The terms ��capsule�� and ��subcapsular�� have been used to refer to containment by an unspecified combination of annulus and ligament. These terms are nonpreferred.

Referring specifically to the posterior longitudinal ligament, some authors have distinguished displaced disc material as ��subligamentous,�� ��extraligamentous,�� ��transligamentous,�� or ��perforated.�� The term ��subligamentous�� is favored as an equivalent to ��contained.��

Volume and Composition of Displaced Material

A scheme to define the degree of canal compromise produced by disc displacement should be practical, objective, reasonably precise, and clinically relevant. A simple scheme that fulfills the criteria uses two-dimensional measurements taken from an axial section at the site of the most severe compromise. Canal compromise of less than one third of the canal at that section is ��mild,�� between one and two-thirds is ��moderate,�� and greater than two-thirds is ��severe.�� The same grading can be applied for foraminal involvement.

Such characterizations of volume describe only the cross-sectional area at one section and do not account for the total volume of displaced material; proximity to, compression, and distortion of neural structures; or other potentially significant features, which the observer may further detail by narrative description.

Composition of the displaced material may be characterized by terms such as nuclear, cartilaginous, bony, calcified, ossified, collagenous, scarred, desiccated, gaseous, or liquefied.

Clinical significance related to the observation of volume and composition depends on the correlation with clinical data and cannot be inferred from morphologic data alone.


Bonneville proposed a useful and simple alphanumeric system to classify, according to location, the position of disc fragments that have migrated in the horizontal or sagittal plane [6, 13]. Using anatomic boundaries familiar to surgeons, Wiltse proposed another system [14, 67]. Anatomic ��zones�� and ��levels�� are defined using the following landmarks: medial edge of the articular facets; medial, lateral, upper, and lower borders of the pedicles; and coronal and sagittal planes at the center of the disc. On the horizontal (axial) plane, these landmarks determine the boundaries of the central zone, the subarticular zone (lateral recess), the foraminal zone, the extraforaminal zone, and the anterior zone, respectively (Fig. 11). On the sagittal (craniocaudal) plane, they determine the boundaries of the disc level, the infrapedicular level, the pedicular level, and the suprapedicular level, respectively (Fig. 12). The method is not as precise as the drawings depict because borderlines such as the medial edges of facets and the walls of the pedicles are curved, but the method is simple, practical, and in common usage.

Figure 11:�Anatomic zones depicted in axial and coronal projections.
Figure 12: Anatomic levels depicted in sagittal and coronal projections.

Moving from the central to right lateral in the axial (horizontal) plane, location may be defined as central, right central, right subarticular, right foraminal, or right extraforaminal. The term ��paracentral�� is less precise than defining ��right central�� or ��left central,�� but is useful in describing groups of discs that include both, or when speaking informally, when the side is not significant. For reporting of image observations of a specific disc, ��right central�� or ��left central�� should supersede the use of the term ��paracentral.�� The term ��far lateral�� is sometimes used synonymously with ��extraforaminal.��

In the sagittal plane, location may be defined as discal, infrapedicular, suprapedicular, or pedicular. In the coronal plane, anterior, in relationship to the disc, means ventral to the midcoronal plane of the centrum.


Note:�some terms and definitions included in this Glossary are not recommended as preferred terminology but are included to facilitate the interpretation of vernacular and, in some cases, improper use. Preferred definitions are listed first. Nonstandard definitions are placed in brackets, and by consensus of the organizational task forces, should not be used in the manner described. Some terms are also labeled as colloquial, with further designation as to whether they are considered nonpreferred or nonstandard.

Acute disc herniation:�disc herniation of a relatively recent occurrence. Note: paradiscal inflammatory reaction and relatively bright signal of the disc material on T2-weighted images suggest relative acuteness. Such changes may persist for months, however. Thus, absent clinical correlation and/or serial studies, it is not possible to date precisely by imaging when a herniation occurred. An acutely herniated disc material may have brighter signal on T2-weighted MRI sequences than the disc from which the disc material originates [46,�59,�64,�68]. Note that a relatively acute herniation can be superimposed on a previously existing herniation. An acute disc herniation may regress spontaneously without specific treatment. See: chronic disc herniation.

Aging disc:�disc demonstrating any of the various effects of aging on the disc. Loss of water content from the nucleus occurs before MRI changes, followed by the progression of MRI manifested changes consistent with the progressive loss of water content and increase in collagen and aggregating proteoglycans. See Pfirrmann classification.

Annular fissure:�separations between annular fibers, separations of fibers from their vertebral body insertions, or separations of fibers that extend radially, transversely, or concentrically, involving one or many layers of the annular lamellae. Note that the terms ��fissure�� and ��tear�� have often been used synonymously in the past. The term ��tear�� is inappropriate for use in describing imaging findings and should not be used (tear: nonstandard). Neither term suggests injury or implies any knowledge of etiology, neither term implies any relationship to symptoms or that the disc is a likely pain generator, and neither term implies any need for treatment. See also: annular gap, annular rupture, annular tear, concentric fissure, HIZ, radial fissure, transverse fissure.

Annular gap�(nonstandard): focal attenuation (CT) or signal (MRI) abnormality, often triangular in shape, in the posterior aspect of the disc, likely representing widening of a radially directed annular fissure, bilateral annular fissures with an avulsion of the intermediate annular fragment, or an avulsion of a focal zone of macerated annulus.

Annular rupture:�disruption of fibers of the annulus by sudden violent injury. This is a clinical diagnosis; use of the term is inappropriate for a pure imaging description, which instead should focus on a detailed description of the findings. Ruptured annulus is�not�synonymous with ��annular fissure,�� or ��ruptured disc.��

Annular tear,�torn annulus�(nonstandard): see fissure of the annulus and rupture of annulus.

Anterior displacement:�displacement of disc tissues beyond the disc space into the anterior zone.

Anterior zone:�peridiscal zone that is anterior to the midcoronal plane of the vertebral body.

Anulus, annulus (abbreviated form of annulus fibrosus):�multilaminated fibrous tissue forming the periphery of each disc space, attaching, craniad and caudad, to end plate cartilage and a ring apophyseal bone and blending centrally with the nucleus pulposus. Note: either anulus or annulus is correct spelling. Nomina Anatomica uses both forms, whereas Terminologia Anatomica states �� anulus fibrosus�� [22]. Fibrosus has no correct alternative spelling; fibrosis has a different meaning and is incorrect in this context.

Asymmetric bulge:�presence of more than 25% of the outer annulus beyond the perimeter of the adjacent vertebrae, more evident in one section of the periphery of the disc than another, but not sufficiently focal to be characterized as a protrusion. Note: asymmetric disc bulging is a morphologic observation that may have various causes and does not imply etiology or association with symptoms. See bulge.

Balloon disc (colloquial, nonstandard):�diffuse apparent enlargement of the disc in superior-inferior extent because of bowing of the vertebral end plates due to weakening of the bone as in severe osteoporosis.

Base (of displaced disc):�the cross-sectional area of the disc material at the outer margin of the disc space of origin, where disc material beyond the disc space is continuous with disc material within the disc space. In the craniocaudal direction, the length of the base cannot exceed, by definition, the height of the intervertebral space. On axial imaging, base refers to the width at the outer margin of the disc space, of the origin of any disc material extending beyond the disc space.

Black disc�(colloquial, nonstandard): see dark disc.

Bulging disc, bulge (noun [n]), bulge (verb [v])

  1. A disc in which the contour of the outer annulus extends, or appears to extend, in the horizontal (axial) plane beyond the edges of the disc space, usually greater than 25% (90�) of the circumference of the disc and usually less than 3 mm beyond the edges of the vertebral body apophysis.
  2. (Nonstandard) A disc in which the outer margin extends over a broad base beyond the edges of the disc space.
  3. (Nonstandard) Mild, diffuse, smooth displacement of disc.
  4. (Nonstandard) Any disc displacement at the discal level.

Note:�bulging is an observation of the contour of the outer disc and is not a specific diagnosis. Bulging has been variously ascribed to redundancy of the annulus, secondary to the loss of disc space height, ligamentous laxity, response to loading or angular motion, remodeling in response to adjacent pathology, unrecognized and atypical herniation, and illusion from volume averaging on CT axial images. Mild symmetric posterior disc bulging may be a normal finding at L5�S1. Bulging may or may not represent pathologic change, physiologic variant, or normalcy. Bulging is not a form of herniation; discs known to be herniated should be diagnosed as herniation or, when appropriate, as specific types of herniation. See: herniated disc, protruded disc, extruded disc.

Calcified disc:�calcification within the disc space, not inclusive of osteophytes at the periphery of the disc space.

Cavitation:�spaces, cysts, clefts, or cavities formed within the nucleus and inner annulus from disc degeneration.

See vacuum disc.

Central zone:�zone within the vertebral canal between sagittal planes through the medial edges of each facet. Note: the center of the central zone is a sagittal plane through the center of the vertebral body. The zones to either side of the center plane are�right central�and�left central, which are preferred terms when the side is known, as when reporting imaging results of a specific disc. When the side is unspecified, or grouped with both right and left represented, the term�paracentral�is appropriate.

Chronic disc herniation:�a clinical distinction that a disc herniation is of long duration. There are no universally accepted definitions of the intervals that distinguish between acute, subacute, and chronic disc herniations. Serial MRIs revealing disc herniations that are unchanged in appearance over time may be characterized as chronic. Disc herniations associated with calcification or gas on CT may be suggested as being chronic. Even so, the presence of calcification or gas does not rule out an acutely herniated disc. Note that an acute disc herniation may be superimposed on a chronic disc herniation. Magnetic resonance imaging signal characteristics may, on rare occasion, allow differentiation of acute and chronic disc herniations [16,�59,�64]. In such cases, acutely herniated disc material may appear brighter than the disc of origin on T2-weighted sequences [46,�59,�61]. Also, see disc-osteophyte complex.

Claw osteophyte:�bony outgrowth arising very close to the disc margin, from the vertebral body apophysis, directed, with a sweeping configuration, toward the corresponding part of the vertebral body opposite the disc.

Collagenized disc or nucleus:�a disc in which the mucopolysaccharide of the nucleus has been replaced by fibrous tissue.

Communicating disc, communication (n), communicate (v)�(nonstandard): communication refers to interruption in the periphery of the disc annulus, permitting free passage of fluid injected within the disc to the exterior of the disc, as may be observed during discography. Not synonymous with ��uncontained.�� See ��contained disc�� and ��uncontained disc.��

Concentric fissure:�fissure of the annulus characterized by separation of annular fibers in a plane roughly parallel to the curve of the periphery of the disc, creating fluid-filled spaces between adjacent annular lamellae. See: radial fissures, transverse fissures, HIZ.

Contained herniation, containment (n), contain (v)

  1. Displaced disc tissue existing wholly within an outer perimeter of uninterrupted outer annulus or posterior longitudinal ligament.
  2. (Nonstandard) A disc with its contents mostly, but not wholly, within annulus or capsule.
  3. (Nonstandard) A disc with displaced elements contained within any investiture of the vertebral canal.

A disc that is less than wholly contained by annulus, but under a distinct posterior longitudinal ligament, is contained. Designation as ��contained�� or ��uncontained�� defines the integrity of the ligamentous structures surrounding the disc, a distinction that is often but not always possible by advanced imaging. On CT and MRI scans, contained herniations typically have a smooth margin, whereas uncontained herniations most often have irregular margins because the outer annulus and the posterior longitudinal ligament have been penetrated by the disc material [35,�37]. CT-discography also does not always allow one to distinguish whether the herniated components of a disc are contained, but only whether there is communication between the disc space and the vertebral canal.

Continuity:�connection of displaced disc tissue by a bridge of disc tissue, however thin, to tissue within the disc of origin.

Dallas classification�(of postdiscography imaging): commonly used grading system for the degree of annular fissuring seen on CT imaging of discs after discography. Dallas Grade 0 is normal; Grade 1: leakage of contrast into the inner one-third of the annulus; Grade 2: leakage of contrast into the inner two-thirds of the annulus; Grade 3: leakage through the entire thickness of the annulus; Grade 4: contrast extends circumferentially; Grade 5: contrast extravasates into the epidural space (See discogram, discography).

Dark disc�(colloquial, nonstandard): disc with nucleus showing decreased signal intensity on T2-weighted images (dark), usually because of desiccation of the nucleus secondary to degeneration. Also: black disc (colloquial, nonstandard). See: disc degeneration, Pfirrmann classification.

Degenerated disc, degeneration (n), degenerate (v)

  1. Changes in a disc characterized to varying degrees by one or more of the following: desiccation, cleft formation, fibrosis, and gaseous degradation of the nucleus; mucinous degradation, fissuring, and loss of integrity of the annulus; defects in and/or sclerosis of the end plates; and osteophytes at the vertebral apophyses.
  2. Imaging manifestation of such changes, including [35]�standard roentgenographic findings, such as disc space narrowing and peridiscal osteophytes, MRI disc findings (see Pfirrmann classification [61]), CT disc findings (see discogram/discography and Dallas classification [42]), and/or MRI findings of vertebral end plate and marrow reactive changes adjacent to a disc (see Modic classification [38]).

Degenerative disc disease�(nonstandard term when used as an imaging description): a condition characterized by manifestations of disc degeneration and symptoms thought to be related to those of degenerative changes. Note: causal connections between degenerative changes and symptoms are often difficult clinical distinctions. The term ��degenerative disc disease�� carries implications of illness that may not be appropriate if the only or primary indicators of illness are from imaging studies, and thus this term should not be used when describing imaging findings. The preferred term for description of imaging manifestations is ��degenerated disc�� or ��disc degeneration,�� rather than ��degenerative disc disease.��

Delamination:�separation of circumferential annular fibers along the planes parallel to the periphery of the disc, characterizing a concentric fissure of the annulus.

Desiccated disc

  1. Disc with reduced water content, usually primarily of nuclear tissues.
  2. Imaging manifestations of reduced water content of the disc, such as decreased (dark) signal intensity on T2-weighted images, or of apparent reduced water content, as from alterations in the concentration of hydrophilic glycosaminoglycans. See also: dark disc (colloquial, nonstandard).

Disc (disk):�complex structure composed of nucleus pulposus, annulus fibrosus, cartilaginous end plates, and vertebral body ring apophyseal attachments of annulus. Note: most English language publications use the spelling ��disc�� more often than ��disk�� [1,�20,�22,�69,�70]. Nomina Anatomica designates the structures as ��disci intervertebrales�� and Terminologia Anatomica as ��discus intervertebralis/intervertebral disc�� [22,�70]. (See ��disc level�� for naming and numbering of a particular disc).

Disc height:�The distance between the planes of the end plates of the vertebral bodies craniad and caudad to the disc. Disc height should be measured at the center of the disc, not at the periphery. If measured at the posterior or anterior margin of the disc on a sagittal image of the spine, this should be clearly specified as such.

Disc level:�Level of the disc and vertebral canal between axial planes through the bony end plates of the vertebrae craniad and caudad to the disc being described.

  1. A particular disc is best named by naming the region of the spine and the vertebra above and below it; for example, the disc between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebral bodies is named ��lumbar 4�5,�� commonly abbreviated as L4�L5, and the disc between the fifth lumbar vertebral body and the first sacral vertebral body is called ��lumbosacral disc�� or ��L5�S1.�� Common anomalies include patients with six lumbar vertebrae or transitional vertebrae at the lumbosacral junction that require, for clarity, narrative explanation of the naming of the discs.
  2. (Nonstandard) A disc is sometimes labeled by the vertebral body above it; for example, the disc between L4 and L5 may be labeled ��the L4 disc��.
  3. Note: ��a motion segment,�� numbered in the same way, is a functional unit of the spine, comprising the vertebral body above and below, the disc, the facet joints, and the connecting soft tissues and is most often referenced with regard to the stability of the spine.

Disc of origin:�disc from which a displaced fragment originated. Synonym: parent disc. Note: since displaced fragments often contain tissues other than nucleus, disc of origin is preferred to nucleus of origin. Parent disc is synonymous, but more colloquial and nonpreferred.

Disc space:�space limited, craniad and caudad, by the end plates of the vertebrae and peripherally by the edges of the vertebral body ring apophyses, exclusive of osteophytes. Synonym: intervertebral disc space. See ��disc�� level for naming and numbering of discs.

Discogenic vertebral sclerosis:�increased bone density and calcification adjacent to the end plates of the vertebrae, craniad and caudad, to a degenerated disc, sometimes associated with intervertebral osteochondrosis. Manifested on MRI as Modic Type�III.

Discogram, discography:�a diagnostic procedure in which contrast material is injected into the nucleus of the disc with radiographic guidance and observation, often followed by CT/discogram. The procedure is often accompanied by pressure measurements and assessment of pain response (provocative discography). The degree of annular fissuring identified by discography may be defined by the Dallas classification and its modifications (See Dallas classification).

Disc-osteophyte complex:�intervertebral disc displacement, whether bulge, protrusion, or extrusion, associated with calcific ridges or ossification. Sometimes called a hard disc or chronic disc herniation (nonpreferred). Distinction should be made between ��spondylotic disc herniation,�� or ��calcified disc herniation�� (nonpreferred), the remnants of an old disc herniation; and ��spondylotic bulging disc,�� a broad-based bony ridge presumably related to chronic bulging disc.

Displaced disc�(nonstandard): a disc in which disc material is beyond the outer edges of the vertebral body ring apophyses (exclusive of osteophytes) of the craniad and caudad vertebrae, or, as in the case of intravertebral herniation, has penetrated through the vertebral body end plate.

Note: displaced disc is a general term that does not imply knowledge of the underlying pathology, cause, relationship to symptoms, or need for treatment. The term includes, but is not limited to, disc herniation and disc migration. See: herniated disc, migrated disc.

Epidural membrane:�See peridural membrane.

Extraforaminal zone:�the peridiscal zone beyond the sagittal plane of the lateral edges of the pedicles, having no well-defined lateral border, but definitely posterior to the anterior zone. Synonym: ��far lateral zone,�� also ��far-out zone�� (nonstandard).

Extraligamentous:�posterior or lateral to the posterior longitudinal ligament. Note: extraligamentous disc refers to displaced disc tissue that is located posterior or lateral to the posterior longitudinal ligament. If the disc has extruded through the posterior longitudinal ligament, it is sometimes called ��transligamentous�� or ��perforated�� and if through the peridural membrane, it is sometimes refined to ��transmembranous.��

Extruded disc, extrusion (n), extrude (v):�a herniated disc in which, in at least one plane, any one distance between the edges of the disc material beyond the disc space is greater than the distance between the edges of the base of the disc material beyond the disc space in the same plane or when no continuity exists between the disc material beyond the disc space and that within the disc space. Note: the preferred definition is consistent with the common image of extrusion, as an expulsion of material from a container through and beyond an aperture. Displacement beyond the outer annulus of the disc material with any distance between its edges greater than the distance between the edges of the base distinguishes extrusion from protrusion. Distinguishing extrusion from protrusion by imaging is best done by measuring the edges of the displaced material and the remaining continuity with the disc of origin, whereas relationship of the displaced portion to the aperture through which it has passed is more readily observed surgically. Characteristics of protrusion and extrusion may coexist, in which case the disc should be subcategorized as extruded. Extruded discs in which all continuity with the disc of origin is lost may be further characterized as ��sequestrated.�� Disc material displaced away from the site of extrusion may be characterized as ��migrated.�� See: herniated disc, migrated disc, protruded disc.

Note: An alternative scheme is espoused by some respected radiologists who believe it has better clinical application. This scheme defines extruded disc as synonymous with �uncontained disc� and does not use comparative measurements of the base versus the displaced material. Per this definition, a disc extrusion can be identified by the presence of a continuous line of low signal intensity surrounding the disc herniation. Future study will further determine the validity of this alternative definition. See: contained disc.

Far lateral zone:�the peridiscal zone beyond the sagittal plane of the lateral edge of the pedicle, having no well defined lateral border, but definitely posterior to the anterior zone. Synonym: ��extraforaminal zone.��

Fissure of annulus:�see annular fissure.

Foraminal zone:�the zone between planes passing through the medial and lateral edges of the pedicles. Note: the foraminal zone is sometimes called the ��pedicle zone�� (nonstandard), which can be confusing because pedicle zone might also refer to measurements in the sagittal plane between the upper and lower surfaces of a given pedicle that is properly called the ��pedicle level.�� The foraminal zone is also sometimes called the ��lateral zone�� (nonstandard), which can be confusing because the ��lateral zone�� can be confused with ��lateral recess�� (subarticular zone) and can also mean extraforaminal zone or an area including both the foraminal and extraforaminal zones.

Free fragment

  1. A fragment of disc that has separated from the disc of origin and has no continuous bridge of disc tissue with disc tissue within the disc of origin. Synonym: sequestrated disc.
  2. (Nonstandard) A fragment that is not contained within the outer perimeter of the annulus.
  3. (Nonstandard) A fragment that is not contained within the annulus, posterior longitudinal ligament, or peridural membrane.

Note: ��sequestrated disc�� and ��free fragment�� are virtually synonymous. When referring to the condition of the disc, categorization as extruded with subcategorization as sequestrated is preferred, whereas when referring specifically to the fragment, free fragment is preferred.

Gap of annulus:�see annular gap.

Hard disc (colloquial):�disc displacement in which the displaced portion has undergone calcification or ossification and may be intimately associated with apophyseal osteophytes. Note: the term ��hard disc�� is most often used in reference to the cervical spine to distinguish chronic hypertrophic and reactive changes at the periphery of the disc from the more acute extrusion of soft, predominantly nuclear tissue. See: chronic disc herniation, disc-osteophyte complex.

Herniated disc, herniation (n), herniated (v):�localized or focal displacement of disc material beyond the normal margin of the intervertebral disc space. Note: ��localized�� or ��focal�� means, by way of convention, less than 25% (90�) of the circumference of the disc.

Herniated disc material may include nucleus pulposus, cartilage, fragmented apophyseal bone, or annulus fibrosus tissue. The normal margins of the intervertebral disc space are defined, craniad and caudad, by the vertebral body end plates and peripherally by the edges of the vertebral body ring apophyses, exclusive of osteophytic formations. Herniated disc generally refers to displacement of disc tissues through a disruption in the annulus, the exception being intravertebral herniations (Schmorl nodes) in which the displacement is through the vertebral end plate. Herniated discs may be further subcategorized as protruded or extruded. Herniated disc is sometimes referred to as HNP, but the term ��herniated disc�� is preferred because displaced disc tissues often include cartilage, bone fragments, or annular tissues. The terms ��prolapse�� and ��rupture�� when referring to disc herniations are nonstandard and their use should be discontinued. Note: ��herniated disc�� is a term that does not imply knowledge of the underlying pathology, cause, relationship to symptoms, or need for treatment.

Herniated nucleus pulposus�(HNP, nonpreferred): see herniated disc.

High intensity zone (HIZ):�area of high intensity on T2-weighted MRIs of the disc, located commonly in the outer annulus. Note: HIZs within the posterior annular substance may indicate the presence of an annular fissure within the annulus, but these terms are not synonymous. An HIZ itself may represent the actual annular fissure or alternatively, may represent vascularized fibrous tissue (granulation tissue) within the substance of the disc in an area adjacent to a fissure. The visualization of an HIZ does not imply a traumatic etiology or that the disc is a source of pain.

Infrapedicular level:�the level between the axial planes of the inferior edges of the pedicles craniad to the disc in question and the inferior end plate of the vertebral body above the disc in question. Synonym: superior vertebral notch.

Internal disc disruption:�disorganization of structures within the disc. See intraannular displacement

Interspace:�see disc space.

Intervertebral chondrosis:�see intervertebral osteochondrosis.

Intervertebral disc:�see disc.

Intervertebral disc space:�see disc space.

Intervertebral osteochondrosis:�degenerative process of the disc and vertebral body end plates that is characterized by disc space narrowing, vacuum phenomenon, and vertebral body reactive changes. Synonym: osteochondrosis (nonstandard).

Intraannular displacement:�displacement of central, predominantly nuclear, tissue to a more peripheral site within the disc space, usually into a fissure in the annulus. Synonym: (nonstandard) intraannular herniation, intradiscal herniation. Note: intraannular displacement is distinguished from disc herniation, that is, herniation of disc refers to displacement of disc tissues beyond the disc space. Intraannular displacement is a form of internal disruption. When referring to intraannular displacement, it is best not to use the term ��herniation�� to avoid confusion with disc herniation.

Intraannular herniation (nonstandard):�see intraannular displacement.

Intradiscal herniation (nonstandard):�see intraannular displacement.

Intradural herniation:�disc material that has penetrated the dura so that it lies in an intradural extramedullary location.

Intravertebral herniation:�a disc displacement in which a portion of the disc projects through the vertebral end plate into the centrum of the vertebral body. Synonym: Schmorl node.

Lateral recess:�that portion of the subarticular zone that is medial to the medial border of the pedicle. It refers to the entire cephalad-caudad region that exists medial to the pedicle, where the same numbered thoracic or lumbar nerve root travels caudally before exiting the nerve root foramen under the caudal margin of the pedicle. It does not refer to the nerve root foramen itself. See also subarticular zone.

Lateral zone�(nonstandard): see foraminal zone.

Leaking disc�(nonstandard): see communicating disc.

Limbus vertebra:�separation of a segment of vertebral ring apophysis. Note: limbus vertebra may be a developmental abnormality caused by failure of integration of the ossifying apophysis to the vertebral body; a chronic herniation (extrusion) of the disc into the vertebral body at the junction of the fusing apophyseal ring, with separation of a portion of the ring with bony displacement; or a fracture through the apophyseal ring associated with intrabody disc herniation. This occurs in children before the apophyseal ring fuses to the vertebral body. In adults, a limbus vertebra should not be confused with an acute fracture. A limbus vertebra does not imply that there has been an injury to the disc or the adjacent apophyseal end plate.

Marginal osteophyte:�osteophyte that protrudes from and beyond the outer perimeter of the vertebral end plate apophysis.

Marrow changes (of vertebral body):�see Modic classification.

Migrated disc, migration (n), migrate (v)

  • 1.Herniated disc in which a portion of the extruded disc material is displaced away from the fissure in the outer annulus through which it has extruded in either sagittal or axial plane.
  • 2.(Nonstandard) A herniated disc with a free fragment or sequestrum beyond the disc level.

Note: migration refers to the position of the displaced disc material, rather than to its continuity with disc tissue within the disc of origin; therefore, it is not synonymous with sequestration.

Modic classification (Type I, II, and III)�[30]: a classification of degenerative changes involving the vertebral end plates and adjacent vertebral bodies associated with disc inflammation and degenerative disc disease, as seen on MRIs. Type I refers to decreased signal intensity on T1-weighted spin echo images and increased signal intensity on T2-weighted images, representing penetration of the end plate by fibrovascular tissue, inflammatory changes, and perhaps edema. Type I changes may be chronic or acute. Type II refers to increased signal intensity on T1-weighted images and isointense or increased signal intensity on T2-weighted images, indicating replacement of normal bone marrow by fat. Type III refers to decreased signal intensity on both T1-and T2-weighted images, indicating reactive osteosclerosis (See: discogenic vertebral sclerosis).

Motion segment:�the functional unit of the spine. See disc level.

Nonmarginal osteophyte:�an osteophyte that occurs at sites other than the vertebral end plate apophysis. See: marginal osteophyte.

Normal disc:�a fully and normally developed disc with no changes attributable to trauma, disease, degeneration, or aging. Note: many congenital and developmental variations may be clinically normal; that is, they are not associated with symptoms, and certain adaptive changes in the disc may be normal considering adjacent pathology; however, classification and reporting for medical purposes is best served if such discs are not considered normal. Note, however, that a disc finding considered not normal does not necessarily imply a cause for clinical signs or symtomatology; the description of any variation of the disc is independent of clinical judgment regarding what is normal for a given patient.

Nucleus of origin (nonpreferred):�the central, nuclear portion of the disc of reference, usually used to reference the disc from which the tissue has been displaced. Note: since displaced fragments often contain tissues other than the nucleus, disc of origin is preferred to nucleus of origin. Synonym: disc of origin (preferred), parent nucleus (nonpreferred).

Osteochondrosis:�see intervertebral osteochondrosis.

Osteophyte:�focal hypertrophy of the bone surface and/or ossification of the soft tissue attachment to the bone.

Paracentral:�in the right or left central zone of the vertebral canal. See central zone. Note: the terms ��right central�� or ��left central�� are preferable when speaking of a single site when the side can be specified, as when reporting the findings of imaging procedures. ��Paracentral�� is appropriate if the side is not significant or when speaking of mixed sites.

Parent disc�(nonpreferred): see disc of origin.

Parent nucleus�(nonpreferred): see nucleus of origin, disc of origin.

Pedicular level:�the space between the axial planes through the upper and lower edges of the pedicle. Note: the pedicular level may be further designated with reference to the disc in question as ��pedicular level above�� or ��pedicular level below�� the disc in question.

Perforated (nonstandard):�see transligamentous.

Peridural membrane:�a delicate, translucent membrane that attaches to the undersurface of the deep layer of the posterior longitudinal ligament, and extends laterally and posteriorly, encircling the bony spinal canal outside the dura. The veins of Batson plexus lie on the dorsal surface of the peridural membrane and pierce it ventrally. Synonym: lateral membrane, epidural membrane.

Pfirrmann classification:�a grading system for the severity of degenerative changes within the nucleus of the intervertebral disc. A Pfirrmann Grade I disc has a uniform high signal in the nucleus on T2-weighted MRI; Grade II shows a central horizontal line of low signal intensity on sagittal images; Grade III shows high intensity in the central part of the nucleus with lower intensity in the peripheral regions of the nucleus; Grade IV shows low signal intensity centrally and blurring of the distinction between nucleus and annulus; and Grade V shows homogeneous low signal with no distinction between nucleus and annulus.[61]

Prolapsed disc, prolapse (n, v)�(nonstandard): the term is variously used to refer to herniated discs. Its use is not standardized and the term does not add to the precision of disc description, so is regarded as nonstandard in deference to ��protrusion�� or ��extrusion.��

Protruded disc, protrusion (n), protrude (v):�1. One of the two subcategories of a ��herniated disc�� (the other being an ��extruded disc��) in which disc tissue extends beyond the margin of the disc space, involving less than 25% of the circumference of the disc margin as viewed in the axial plane. The test of protrusion is that there must be localized (less than 25% of the circumference of the disc) displacement of disc tissue and the distance between the corresponding edges of the displaced portion must not be greater than the distance between the edges of the base of the displaced disc material at the disc space of origin (See base of displaced disc). While sometimes used as a general term in the way herniation is defined, the use of the term ��protrusion�� is best reserved for subcategorization of herniation meeting the above criteria. 2. (nonstandard) Any or unspecified type of disc herniation.

Radial fissure:�disruption of annular fibers extending from the nucleus outward toward the periphery of the annulus, usually in the craniad-caudad (vertical) plane, although, at times, with axial horizontal (transverse) components. ��Fissure�� is the preferred term to the nonstandard term ��tear.�� Neither term implies knowledge of injury or other etiology. Note: Occasionally, a radial fissure extends in the transverse plane to include an avulsion of the outer layers of annulus from the apophyseal ring. See concentric fissures, transverse fissures.

Rim lesion (nonstandard): See limbus vertebra.

Rupture of annulus, ruptured annulus:�see annular rupture.

Ruptured disc, rupture�(nonstandard): a herniated disc. The term ��ruptured disc�� is an improper synonym for herniated disc, not to be confused with violent disruption of the annulus related to injury. Its use should be discontinued.

Schmorl node:�see intravertebral herniation.

Sequestrated disc, sequestration (n), sequestrate (v); (variant: sequestered disc):�an extruded disc in which a portion of the disc tissue is displaced beyond the outer annulus and maintains no connection by disc tissue with the disc of origin. Note: an extruded disc may be subcategorized as ��sequestrated�� if no disc tissue bridges the displaced portion and the tissues of the disc of origin. If even a tenuous connection by disc tissue remains between a displaced fragment and disc of origin, the disc is not sequestrated. If a displaced fragment has no connection with the disc of origin, but is contained within peridural membrane or under a portion of posterior longitudinal ligament that is not intimately bound with the annulus of origin, the disc is considered sequestrated. Sequestrated and sequestered are used interchangeably. Note: ��sequestrated disc�� and ��free fragment�� are virtually synonymous. See: free fragment. When referring to the condition of the disc, categorization as extruded with subcategorization as sequestered is preferred, whereas when referring specifically to the fragment, free fragment is preferred. See sequestrum.

Sequestrum (nonpreferred):�refers to disc tissue that has displaced from the disc space of origin and lacks any continuity with disc material within the disc space of origin. Synonym: free fragment (preferred). See sequestrated disc. Note: ��sequestrum�� (nonpreferred) refers to the isolated free fragment itself, whereas sequestrated disc defines the condition of the disc.

Spondylitis:�inflammatory disease of the spine, other than degenerative disease. Note: spondylitis usually refers to noninfectious inflammatory spondyloarthropathies.

Spondylosis:�1. Common nonspecific term used to describe effects generally ascribed to degenerative changes in the spine, particularly those involving hypertrophic changes to the apophyseal end plates and zygapophyseal joints. 2. (nonstandard) Spondylosis deformans, for which spondylosis is a shortened form.

Spondylosis deformans:�degenerative process of the spine involving the annulus fibrosus and vertebral body apophysis, characterized by anterior and lateral marginal osteophytes arising from the vertebral body apophyses, while the intervertebral disc height is normal or only slightly decreased. See degeneration, spondylosis.

Subarticular zone:�the zone, within the vertebral canal, sagittally between the plane of the medial edges of the pedicles and the plane of the medial edges of the facets and coronally between the planes of the posterior surfaces of the vertebral bodies and the anterior surfaces of the superior facets. Note: the subarticular zone cannot be precisely delineated in two-dimensional depictions because the structures that define the planes of the zone are irregular. The lateral recess is that portion of the subarticular zone defined by the medial wall of the pedicle, where the same numbered nerve root traverses before turning under the inferior wall of the pedicle into the foramen.

Subligamentous:�beneath the posterior longitudinal ligament. Note: although the distinction between outer annulus and posterior longitudinal ligament may not always be identifiable, subligamentous has meaning distinct from subannular when the distinction can be made. When the distinction cannot be made, subligamentous is appropriate. Subligamentous contrasts to extraligamentous, transligamentous, or perforated. See extraligamentous, transligamentous.

Submembranous:�enclosed within the peridural membrane. Note: with reference to the displaced disc material, characterization of a herniation as submembranous usually infers that the displaced portion is extruded beyond annulus and posterior longitudinal ligament so that only the peridural membrane invests it.

Suprapedicular level:�the level within the vertebral canal between the axial planes of the superior end plate of the vertebra caudad to the disc space in question and the superior margin of the pedicle of that vertebra. Synonym: inferior vertebral notch.

Syndesmophytes:�thin and vertically oriented bony outgrowths extending from one vertebral body to the next and representing ossification within the outer portion of the annulus fibrosus.

Tear of annulus, torn annulus�(nonstandard): see annular tear.

Thompson classification:�a five-point grading scale of degenerative changes in the human intervertebral disc, from 0 (normal) to 5 (severe degeneration), based on gross pathologic morphology of midsagittal sections of the lumbar spine.

Traction osteophytes:�bony outgrowth arising from the vertebral body apophysis, 2 to 3 mm above or below the edge of the intervertebral disc, projecting in a horizontal direction.

Transligamentous:�displacement, usually extrusion, of disc material through the posterior longitudinal ligament. Synonym: (nonstandard) (perforated). See also extraligamentous, transmembranous.

Transmembranous:�displacement of extruded disc material through the peridural membrane.

Transverse fissure:�fissure of the annulus in the axial (horizontal) plane. When referring to a large fissure in the axial plane, the term is synonymous with a horizontally oriented radial fissure. Often ��transverse fissure�� refers to a more limited, peripheral separation of annular fibers including attachments to the apophysis. These more narrowly defined peripheral fissures may contain gas visible on radiographs or CT images and may represent early manifestations of spondylosis deformans. See annular fissure, concentric fissure, radial fissure.

Uncontained disc:�displaced disc material that is not contained by the outer annulus and/or posterior longitudinal ligament. See discussion under contained disc.

Vacuum disc:�a disc with imaging findings characteristic of gas (predominantly nitrogen) in the disc space, usually a manifestation of disc degeneration.

Vertebral body marrow changes:�reactive vertebral body signal changes associated with disc inflammation and disc degeneration, as seen on MRIs. See Modic classification.

Vertebral notch (inferior):�incisura of the upper surface of the pedicle corresponding to the lower part of the foramen (suprapedicular level).

Vertebral notch (superior):�incisura of the under surface of the pedicle corresponding to the upper part of the foramen (infrapedicular level).

Supplementary Appendix


A herniated disc most commonly develops as a result of age-related wear and tear or degeneration on the spine. In children and young adults, the intervertebral discs have a much higher water content. As we age, however, the water content of the intervertebral discs decreases and these begin to shrink while the spaces between the vertebra gets narrower, ultimately turning less flexible and becoming more prone to disc herniation. Proper diagnosis and treatment are essential to avoid further symptoms of low back pain. The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic as well as to spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at�915-850-0900�.

Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez


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  47. Czervionke, L.F.�Lumbar intervertebral disc disease.�Neuroimaging Clin N Am.�1993;�:�465�485
  48. Rothman, S.L.G. and Chafetz, N.I.�An anatomic explanation for overreading disc herniations on MRI imaging studies of the lumbar spine: poster presentation.�American Society of Neuroradiology,Chicago, Illinois;�1995
  49. Twomey, L.T. and Taylor, J.R.�Age changes in lumbar vertebrae and intervertebral discs.�Clin Orthop.�1987;�224:�97�104
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  53. Ito, T., Yamada, M., Ikuta, F. et al.�Histologic evidence of absorption of sequestration-type herniated disc.�Spine.�1996;�21:�230�234
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  57. Twomey, L.T. and Taylor, J.R.�Age changes in lumbar intervertebral discs.�Acta Orthop Scand.�1985;56:�496�499
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Additional Topics: Acute Back Pain

Back pain�is one of the most prevalent causes of disability and missed days at work worldwide. Back pain attributes to the second most common reason for doctor office visits, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. Approximately 80 percent of the population will experience back pain at least once throughout their life. The spine is a complex structure made up of bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles, among other soft tissues. Because of this, injuries and/or aggravated conditions, such as�herniated discs, can eventually lead to symptoms of back pain. Sports injuries or automobile accident injuries are often the most frequent cause of back pain, however, sometimes the simplest of movements can have painful results. Fortunately, alternative treatment options, such as chiropractic care, can help ease back pain through the use of spinal adjustments and manual manipulations, ultimately improving pain relief.

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EXTRA IMPORTANT TOPIC: Sciatica Pain Chiropractic Therapy

Radiculopathies? What Are They?

Radiculopathies? What Are They?

The spine is made of bones called vertebrae, with the spinal cord running through the spinal canal in the center. The cord is made up of nerves. These nerve roots split from the cord and travel between the vertebrae into various areas of the body. When these nerve roots become pinched or damaged, the symptoms that follow are known as, radiculopathy. El Paso, TX. Chiropractor, Dr. Alexander Jimenez breaks down�radiculopathies,�along with their causes, symptoms and treatment.

The entire length of the spine, at each level, nerves exit through holes in the bone of the spine (foramen) on each side of the spinal column. These nerves are called nerve roots, or radicular nerves and�branch out from the spine and supply different parts of the body.

Nerves exiting the cervical spine travel down through the arms, hands, and fingers. This is where neck problems affecting a cervical nerve root can cause pain, as well as, other symptoms through the arms and hands, one form of (radiculopathy). Another is low back problems that affect a lumbar nerve root. This can radiate through the leg and into the foot, another form of (radiculopathy, or sciatica), which creates leg pain and/or foot pain.

The spinal cord does not go into the lumbar spine and because the spinal canal has space in the lower back, problems in the lumbosacral region often cause nerve root problems and not a spinal cord injury. Serious conditions i.e. disc herniation or fracture in the lower back are also not likely to cause permanent loss of motor function in the legs.

  • Cervical Spine – This nerve root is named according to the Lower spinal segment that the nerve root runs between.�
  • Example – The nerve at C5-C6 level is called the C6 nerve root.
  • It’s named like this because as it exits the spine, it passes Over the C6 pedicle (a piece of bone part of the spinal segment).
  • Lumbar Spine – These nerve roots are named according to the Upper spinal segment that the nerve runs between.
  • Example – The nerve at L4-L5 level is called the L4 nerve root.
  • The nerve root is named this way because as it exits the spine it passes Under the L4 pedicle.

Two Nerve Roots

Two nerves cross each disc level

Only one exits�the spine (through the foramen) at that level.

Exiting Nerve Root –�This is the nerve root exiting the spine at a certain level.

Example: L4 nerve root exits the spine at L4-L5 level.

Traversing Nerve Root –�This nerve root goes across the disc and exits the spine at the level below.

Example: L5 nerve is the traversing nerve root at L4-L5 level, and is the exiting nerve root at L5-S1 level.

There is some confusion when a nerve root is compressed by disc herniation or other cause to refer both to the intervertebral level (where the disc is) and to the nerve root that is affected. This depends on where the disc herniation or protrusion is happening. It could impinge upon either the exiting nerve�or the traversing nerve.

If The Traversing Nerve Is Affected

Lumbar Radiculopathy

In the lumbar spine, there is a weak area in the disc space right in front of the traversing nerve root, so lumbar discs tend to herniate or leak out and impinge on the traversing nerve.

If The Exiting Nerve Is Affected

Cervical Radiculopathy

The opposite is true in the neck. In the cervical spine, the disc tends to herniate to the side, rather than toward the back and the side. If the disc material herniates to the side, it will compress or impinge the exiting nerve root.

Radiculopathy & Sciatica

Nerve root goes by another name Radicular Nerve, and when a herniated or prolapsed disc presses on a radicular nerve, this is referred to as a radiculopathy. A medical physician might say there is herniated disc at L4-L5, which creates an L5 radiculopathy or an L4 radiculopathy. It all depends on where the disc herniation occurs (the side or the back of the disc) and which nerve is affected. And the term for radiculopathy in the low back is the ever famous Sciatica.


  • A pinched nerve can occur at different areas of the spine (cervical, thoracic or lumbar).
  • Common causes are narrowing of the hole where the� nerve roots exit, which can result from stenosis, bone spurs, disc herniation and other conditions.
  • Symptoms vary but often include pain, weakness, numbness and tingling.
  • Symptoms can be managed with nonsurgical treatment, but minimal surgery can also help.

Prevalence & Pathogenesis

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • A herniated disc can be defined as herniation of the nucleus pulposus through the fibers of the annulus fibrosus.
  • Most disc ruptures occur during the third and fourth decades of life while the nucleus pulposus is still gelatinous.
  • The most likely time of day associated with increased force on the disc is the morning.
  • In the lumbar region, perforations usually arise through a defect just lateral to the posterior midline, where the posterior longitudinal ligament is weakest.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.


radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.Lumbar Spine:

  • Symptomatic lumbar disc herniation occurs during the lifetime of approximately 2% of the general population.
  • Approximately 80% of the population will experience significant back pain during the course of a herniated disc.
  • The groups at greatest risk for herniation of intervertebral discs are younger individuals (mean age of 35 years)
  • True sciatica actually develops in only 35% of patients with disc herniation.
  • Not infrequently, sciatica develops 6 to 10 years after the onset of low back pain.
  • The period of localized back pain may correspond to repeated damage to annular fibers that irritates the sinuvertebral nerve but does not result in disc herniation.


Cervical Spine:

  • The average annual incidence of cervical radiculopathies is less than 0.1 per 1000 individuals.
  • Pure soft disc herniations are less common than hard disc abnormalities (spondylosis) as a cause of radicular arm pain.
  • In a study of 395 patients with nerve root abnormalities, radiculopathies occurred in the cervical and lumbar spine in 93 (24%) and 302 (76%), respectively.


  • Alterations in intervertebral disc biomechanics and biochemistry over time have a detrimental effect on disc function.
  • The disc is less able to work as a spacer between vertebral bodies or as a universal joint.

Pathogenesis – LUMBAR SPINE

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • The two most common levels for disc herniation are L4-L5 and L5-S1, which account for 98% of lesions; pathology can occur at L2-L3 and L3-L4 but is relatively uncommon.
    Overall, 90% of disc herniations are at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels.
  • Disc herniations at L5-S1 will usually compromise the first sacral nerve root, a lesion at the L4-L5 level will most often compress the fifth lumbar root, and herniation at L3-L4 more frequently involves the fourth lumbar root.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Disc herniation may also develop in older patients.
  • Disc tissue that causes compression in elderly patients is composed of the annulus fibrosus and and portions of the cartilaginous endplate (hard disc.)
    The cartilage is avulsed from the vertebral body.
  • Resolution of some of the compressive effects on neural structures requires resorption of the nucleus pulposus.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Disc resorption is part of the natural healing process associated with disc herniation.
  • The enhanced ability to resorb discs has the potential for resolving clinical symptoms more rapidly.
  • Resorption of herniated disc material is associated with a marked increase in infiltrating macrophages and the production of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) 3 and 7.
  • Nerlich and associates identified the origins of phagocytic cells in degenerated intervertebral discs.
  • The investigation identified cells that are transformed local cells rather than invaded macrophages.
  • Degenerative discs contain the cells that add to their continued dissolution.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

Pathogenesis – CERVICAL SPINE

  • In the early 1940s, a number of reports appeared in which cervical intervertebral disc herniation with radiculopathies was described.
  • There is a direct correlation between the anatomy of the cervical spine and the location and pathophysiology of disc lesion.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • The eight cervical nerve roots exit via intervertebral foramina that are bordered anteromedially by the intervertebral disc and posterolaterally by the zygapophyseal joint.
  • The foramina are largest at C2-C3 and decrease in size until C6-C7.
  • The nerve root occupies 25% to 33% of the volume of the foramen.
  • The C1 root exits between the occiput and the atlas (C1)
  • All lower roots exit above their corresponding cervical vertebrae (the C6 root at the C5-C6 interspace), except C8, which exits between C7 and T1.
  • A differential growth rate affects the relationship of the spinal cord and nerve roots and the cervical spine.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Most acute disc herniations occur posterolaterally and in patients around the forth decade of life, when the nucleus is still gelatinous.
  • The most common areas of disc herniations are C6-C7 and C5-C6.
  • C7-T1 and C3-C4 disc herniations are infrequent ( less than 15 %).
  • Disc herniation of C2-C3 is rare.
  • Patients with upper cervical disc protrusions in the C2-C3 region have symptoms that include suboccipital pain, loss of hand dexterity, and paresthesias over the face and unilateral arm.
  • Unlike lumbar herniated discs, cervical herniated discs may cause myelopathy in addition to radicular pain because of the anatomy of the spinal cord in the cervical region.
  • The uncovertebral prominences play a role in the location of ruptured discs material.
  • The uncovertebral joint tends to guide extruded disc material medially, where cord compression may also occur.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Disc herniations usually affect the nerve root numbered most caudally for the given disc level; for example, the C3 � C4 disc affects the fourth cervical nerve root; C4- C5, the fifth cervical nerve root; C5 � C6, the sixth cervical nerve root; C6 � C7, the seventh cervical nerve root; and C7 � T1, the eighth cervical nerve root.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Not every herniated disc is symptomatic.
  • The development of symptoms depends on the reserve capacity of the spinal canal, the presence of inflammation, the size of the herniation, and the presence of concomitant disease such as osteophyte formation.
  • In disc rupture, protrusion of nuclear material results in tension on the annular fibers and compress?on of the dura or nerve root causing pain.
  • Also important is the smaller size of the sagittal diameter, the bony cervical spinal canal.
  • Individuals in whom a cervical herniated disc causes motor dysfunction have a complication of cervical disc herniation if the spinal canal is stenotic.

Clinical History – LUMBAR SPINE

  • Clinically, the patient�s major complaint is a sharp, lancinating pain.
  • In many cases there may be a previous history of intermittent episodes of localized low back pain.
  • The pain not only in the back but also radiates down the leg in the anatomic distribution of the affected nerve root.
  • It will usually be described as deep and sharp and progressing from above downward in the involved leg.
  • Its onset may be insidious or sudden and associated with a tearing or snapping sensations of the spine.
  • Occasionally, when sciatica develops, the back pain may resolve because once the annulus has ruptured, it may no longer be under tension.
  • Disc herniation occurs with sudden physical effort when the trunk is flexed or rotated.
  • On occasion, patients with L4-L5 disc herniation have groin pain. In a study of 512 lumbar disc patients, 4.1% had groin pain.
  • Finally, the sciatica may vary in intensity; it may be so severe that patients will be unable to ambulate and they will feel that their back is “locked”.
  • On the other hand, the pain may be limited to a dull ache that increases in intensity with ambulation.
  • Pain is worsened in the flexed position and relieved by extension of the lumbar spine.
  • Characteristically, patients with herniated discs have increased pain with sitting, driving, walking, couching, sneezing, or straining.

Clinical History – CERVICAL SPINE

  • Arm pain, not neck pain, is the patient� s major complaint.
  • The pain is often perceived as starting in the neck area and then radiating from this point down to shoulder, arm and forearm and usually into the hand.
  • The onset of the radicular pain is often gradual, although it can be sudden and occur in association with a tearing or snapping sensation.
  • As time passes, the magnitude of the arm pain clearly exceeds that of the neck or shoulder pain.
  • The arm pain may also be variable in intensity and preclude any use of the arm; it may range from severe pain to a dull, cramping ache in the arm muscles.
  • The pain is usually severe enough to awaken the patient at night.
  • Additionally, a patient may complain of associated headaches as well as muscle spasm, which can radiate from the cervical spine to below the scapulae.
  • The pain may also radiate to the chest and mimic angina (pseudoangina) or to the breast.
  • Symptoms such as back pain, leg pain, leg weakness, gait disturbance, or incontinence suggest compression of the spinal cord (Myelopathy).

Physical Examination – LUMBAR SPINE

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Physical examination will demonstrated a decrease in range of motion of the lumbosacral spine, and patients may list to one side as they try to bend forward.
  • The side of the disc herniation typically corresponds to the location of the scoliotic list.
  • However, the specific level or degree of herniation does not correlate with the degree of list.
  • On ambulation, patients walk with an antalgic gait in which they hold the involved leg flexed so that they put as little weight as possible on the extremity.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Neurologic Examination:
  • The neurologic examination is very important and may yield objective evidence of nerve root compression (We should evaluate of reflex testing, muscle power, and sensation examination of the patient).
  • In addition, a nerve deficit may have little temporal relevance because it may be related to a previous attack at a different level.
  • Compression of individual spinal nerve roots results in alterations in motor, sensory, and reflex function.
  • When the first sacral root is compressed, the patient may have gastrocnemius-soleus weakness and be unable to repeatedly raise up on the toes of that foot.
  • Atrophy of the calf may be apperent, and the ankle (Achilles) reflex is often diminished or absent.
  • Sensory loss, if present, is usually confined to the posterior aspect of the calf and the lateral side of the foot.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Involvement of the fifth lumbar nerve root can lead to weakness in extension of the great toe and, in a few cases, weakness of the everters and dorsiflexors of the foot.
  • A sensory deficit can appear over the anterior of the leg and the dorsomedial aspect of the foot down to the big toe

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • With compression of the fourth lumbar nerve root, the quadriceps muscle is affected; the patient may note weakness in knee extension, which is often associated with instability.
  • Atrophy of the thigh musculature can be marked. Sensory loss may be apparent over the anteromedial aspect of the thigh, and the patellar tendon reflex can be diminished.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.


radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Nerve root sensitivity can be elicited by any method that creates tension.
  • The straight leg-raising (SLR)test is the one most commonly used.
  • This test is performed with the patient supine.

Physical Examination – CERVICAL SPINE

Neurologic Examination:
  • A neurologic examination that shows abnormalities is the most helpful aspect of the diagnostic work-up, although the examination may remain normal despite a chronic radicular pattern.
  • The presence of atrophy helps document the location of the lesion, as well as its chronicity.
  • The presence of subjective sensory changes is often difficult to interpret and requires a coherent and cooperative patient to be of clinical value.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • When the third cervical root is compressed, no reflex change and motor weakness can be identified.
  • The pain radiates to the back of the neck and toward the mastoid process and pinna of the ear.
  • Involvement of the fourth cervical nerve root leads to no readily detectable reflex changes or motor weakness.
  • The pain radiates to the back of the neck and superior aspect of the scapula.
  • Occasionally, the pain radiates to the anterior chest wall.
  • The pain is often exacerbated by neck extension.
  • Unlike the third and the fourth cervical nerve roots, the fifth through eighth cervical nerve roots have motor functions.
  • Compression of the fifth cervical nerve root is characterized by weakness of shoulder abduction, usually above 90 degree, and weakness of shoulder extension.
  • The biceps reflexes are often depressed and the pain radiates from the side of the neck to the top of the shoulder.
  • Decreased sensation is often noted in the lateral aspect of the deltoid, which represents the autonomous area of the axillary nerve.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Involvement of the sixth cervical nerve root produces biceps muscles weakness as well as diminished brachioradial reflex.
  • The pain again radiates from the neck down the lateral aspect of the arm and forearm to the radial side of hand (index finger, long finger, and thumb).
  • Numbness occurs occasionally in the tip of the index finger, the autonomous area of the sixth cervical nerve root.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Compression of the seventh cervical nerve root produces reflex changes in the triceps jerk test with associated loss of strength in the triceps muscles, which extend the elbow.
  • The pain from this lesion radiates from the lateral aspect of the neck down the middle of the area to the middle finger.
  • Sensory changes occur often in the tip of the middle finger, the autonomous area for the seventh nerve.
  • Patients should also be tested for scapular winging, which may occur with C6 or C7 radiculopathies.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Finally, involvement of the eighth cervical nerve root by a herniated C7-T1 disc produces significant weakness of the intrinsic musculature of the hand.
  • Such involvement can lead to rapid atrophy of the interosseous muscles because of the small size of these muscles.
  • Loss of the interossei leads to significant loss of fine hand motion.
  • No reflexes are easily found, although the flexor carpi ulnaris reflex may be decreased.
  • The radicular pain from the eighth cervical nerve root radiates to the ulnar border the hand and the ring and little fingers.
  • The tip of the little finger often demonstrates diminished sensation.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Radicular pain secondary to a herniated cervical disc may be relieved by abduction of the affected arm.
  • Although these signs are helpful when present, their absence alone does not rule out a nerve root lesion.

Laboratory Data

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Medical screening laboratory test (blood counts, chemistry panels erythrocyte sedimentation rate [ESR]) are normal in patients with a herniated disc.
  • Electro diagnostic Testing
  • Electromyography(EMG)is an electronic extension of the physical examination.
  • The primary use of EMG is to diagnose radiculopathies in cases of questionable neurologic origin.
  • EMG findings may be positive in patients with nerve root impingement.

Radiographic Evaluation – LUMBAR SPINE

  • Plain x-rays may be entirely normal in a patient with signs and symptoms of nerve root impingement.
  • Computed Tomography
  • Radigraphic evaluation by CT scan may demonstrate disc bulging but may not correlate with the level of nerve damage.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • MR imaging also allows visualization of soft tissues, including discs in the lumbar spine.
  • Herniated discs are easily detected with MR evaluation.
  • MR imaging is a sensitive technique for the detection of far lateral and anterior disc herniations.

Radiographic Evaluation – CERVICAL SPINE

  • X-rays
  • Plain x-rays may be entirely normal in patients wit han acute herniated cervical disc.
  • Conversely,�70% of asymptomatic women and 95% of asymptomatic men between the ages of 60 and 65 years have evidence of degenerative disc disease on plain roentgenograms.
  • Views to be obtained include anteroposterior, lateral, flexion, and extension.
radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Computed Tomography
  • CT permits direct visualization of compression of neural structures and is therefore more precise than myelography.
  • Advantages of CT over myelography include better visualization of lateral abnormalities such as foraminal stenosis and abnormalities caudal to the myelographic block, less radiation exposure, and no hospitalization.
  • Magnetic Resonance
  • MRI allows excellent visualization of soft tissues, including herniated discs in the cervical spine.
  • The test is noninvasive.
  • In a study of 34 patients with cervical lesions, MRI predicted 88% of the surgically proven lesions versus 81% for myelography-CT, 58% for myelography, and 50% for CT alone.

Differential Diagnosis – LUMBAR SPINE

  • The initial diagnosis of a herniated disc is ordinarily made on the basis of the history and physical examination.
  • Plain radiographs of the lumbosacral spine will rarely add to the diagnosis but should be obtained to help rule out other causes of pain such as infection or tumor.
  • Other tests such as MR, CT, and myelography are confirmatory by nature and can be misleading when used as screening tests.

Spinal Stenosis

  • Patient with spinal stenosis may also suffer from back pain that radiates to the lower extremities.
  • Patients with spinal stenosis tend to be older than those in whom herniated discs develop.
  • Characteristically, patients with spinal stenosis experience lower extremity pain (pseudoclaudication=neurogenic claudication) after walking for an unspecified distance.
  • They also complain of pain that is exacerbated by standing or extending the spine.
  • Radiographic evaluation is usually helpful in differentiating individuals with disc herniation from those with bony hypertrophy associated with spinal stenosis.
  • In a study of 1,293 patients, lateral spinal stenosis and herniated intervertebral discs coexisted in 17.7% of individuals.
  • Radicular pain may be caused by more than one pathologic process in an individual.

Facet Syndrome

  • Facet syndrome is another cause of low back pain that may be associated with radiation of pain to structures outside the confines of the lumbosacral spine.
  • Degeneration of articular structures in the facet joint causes pain to develop.
  • In most circumstances, the pain is localized over the area of the affected joint and is aggravated by extension of the spine (standing).
  • A deep , ill-defined, aching discomfort may also be noted in the sacroiliac joint, the buttocks, and the legs.
  • The areas of sclerotome affected show the same embryonic origin as the degenerated facet joint.
  • Patients with pain secondary to facet joint disease may have relief of symptoms with apophyseal injection of a long-acting local anesthetic.
  • The true role of facet joint disease in the production of back and leg pain remains to be determined.
  • Other mechanical causes of sciatica include congentenial abnormalites of the lumbar nerve roots, external compression of the sciatic nerve (wallet in a back pants pocket), and muscular compression of the nerve (piriformis syndrome).
  • In rare circumstances, cervical or thoracic lesion should be considered if the lumbar spine is clear of abnormalities.
  • Medical causes of sciatica (neural tumors or infections, for example) are usually associated with systemic symptoms in addition to nerve pain in a sciatic distribution.

Differential Diagnosis – CERVICAL SPINE

  • No diagnostic criteria exist for the clinical diagnosis of a herniated cervical disc.
  • The provisional diagnosis of a herniated cervical disc is made by the history and physical examination.
  • The plain x-ray is usually nondiagnostic, although occasionally disc space narrowing at the suspected interspace or foraminal narrowing on oblique films is seen.
  • The value of x-rays is to exclude other causes of neck and arm pain, such as infection and tumor.
  • MR imaging and CT-myelography are the best confirmatory examinations for disc herniation.
  • Cervical disc herniations may affect structures other than nerve roots.
  • Disc herniation may cause vessel compression (vertebral artery) associated with vertebrobasilar artery insufficiency and be manifested as blurred vision and dizziness.

radiculopathies chiropractic care el paso tx.

  • Other mechanical causes of arm pain should be excluded.
  • The most common is some form of compression on a peripheral nerve.
  • Such compression can occur at the elbow, forearm, or wrist. An example is compression of the median nerve by the carpal ligament leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • The best diagnostic test to rule out these peripheral neuropathies is EMG.
  • Excessive traction on the arm secondary to heavy weights may cause radicular pain without disc compression of nerve roots.
  • Spinal cord abnormalities must be considered if signs of myelopathy are present in conjunction with radiculopathies.
  • Spinal cord lesions such as syringomyelia are identified by MRI, and motor neuron disease is identified by EMG.
  • Multiple sclerosis should be considered in a patient with radiculopathies if the physical signs indicate lesions above the foramen magnum (optic neuritis).
  • In very rare circumstances, lesions of the parietal lobe corresponding to the arm can mimic the findings of cervical radiculopathies.
Heal A Bulging Disc Through Chiropractic | El Paso, TX.

Heal A Bulging Disc Through Chiropractic | El Paso, TX.

Bulging disc is often thought of as a normal part of the aging process. It causes pain and decreases mobility. Athletes and people who have jobs that are very physical are often prone to bulging discs and other disc problems. Smoking tobacco can also be a contributing factor in spinal discs deteriorating and weakening. Chiropractic has been proven to be an effective treatment to heal a bulging disc and the associated pain.

What Is A Bulging Disc?

heal bulging disc el paso tx.

Bulging discs are often thought to be the same as herniated discs but that is incorrect. A herniated disc involves a crack in the disc�s outer layer. This is called an annulus. Typically, a small part of the disc is affected, allowing the soft material that makes up the nucleus pulposus to protrude. This is different from a bulging disc because, unlike a herniated disc, there is no crack. The disc bulges out of the space but it doesn�t crack and no material protrudes. It also affects more area of the disc than a herniated disc.

While a herniated disc is likely more painful, a bulging disc can also cause pain that can increase over time. Symptoms of a bulging disc include:

  • Tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness in one or both legs
  • Changes in bowel or bladder function
  • Hyper reflexivity in one or both legs
  • Paralysis below the waist
  • Deep pain over the shoulder blade or in the shoulder area
  • Pain when moving the neck
  • Radiating pain in the fingers, forearm, and upper arm

A bulging disc is often diagnosed by a combination of several methods. A physical exam, along with a full history of the problem will often lead to tests like MRI, x-ray, and myelogram with CT scan. From there, your doctor will work with you to find the best course of treatment.

Chiropractic To Help Heal A Bulging Disc

Chiropractic is a preferred treatment method for many patients with bulging disc because it is non-invasive and does not involve drugs or injections. Once you have your diagnosis, you and your chiropractor can work together to find the best way to treat your condition.

Your chiropractor will want to verify your diagnosis so you may go through questions about your medical history, a physical examination, and tests that involve nerve function, reflexes, and muscle tone. Your chiropractor may also order MRI or x-ray as well as other diagnostic testing in order to get a better picture of what is going on.

One of the most popular features of chiropractic care is the whole body approach to wellness. Your chiropractor will look at your entire spine, not just the area that is painful. They will treat your entire spine and provide self-care direction, exercise, and nutritional recommendations so that you can continue to progress and live pain free. Your pain and spinal problems could be the result of spinal misalignment so your chiropractor will seek to get to the root of the problem and treat your entire spine so that you have less pain, your spine can heal, and you have better mobility.

Through focused chiropractic adjustments, your chiropractor will gently use low force techniques to relieve the painful symptoms by manipulating your spine around and at the disc that is bulging. They may use other types of treatments depending on your specific condition and other issues that may be exacerbating your problem.

Chiropractic for bulging discs is safe, effective, and long lasting. If you are having back pain from a bulging disc, you owe it to yourself to seek quality chiropractic care so that you can enjoy less pain, improved mobility, and better quality of life.

Injury Medical Clinic: Non-Surgical Options

Herniated Disc Pain Treatment In El Paso, TX. | Video

Herniated Disc Pain Treatment In El Paso, TX. | Video

Herniated Disc Pain: Araceli Pizana started chiropractic care with Dr. Alex Jimenez due to chronic back pain symptoms associated with a herniated disc. Before finding the right alternative treatment option with Dr. Jimenez, Mrs. Pizana struggled to perform her everyday activities. Araceli Pizana describes how Dr. Alex Jimenez’s exceptional care for his patients ultimately reflects on his ability to improve her overall well-being. Mrs. Pizana recommends chiropractic care for health and wellness.

Herniated Disc Pain & Chiropractic Treatment

Most healthcare professionals agree that degeneration of the intervertebral discs is the main cause of spinal disc herniation, where trauma and/or injury is considered to be the least probable cause. Disc degeneration occurs both with degenerative disc disease and aging. When the degeneration of the intervertebral discs occurs, the soft gel-like center of the disc, known as the nucleus pulposus, pushes through the outer ring of the disc, known as the annulus fibrosus. A tear in the intervertebral disc is what’s known as a disc herniation. Furthermore, the chemical material released can irritate the surrounding structures of the spine causing herniated disc pain.

herniated disc pain in el paso tx.

Dr. Jimenez has teamed with the top surgeons, clinical specialist, medical researchers and�premiere rehabilitation�providers to bring El Paso the top clinical treatments to our community.��Providing the top non-invasive protocols is our priority.��The clinical insight is what our patients demand in order to give them the appropriate care required.

Our team has takes great�pride in bringing our families and injured patients only�clinically proven treatments protocols. �By teaching complete holistic wellness as a lifestyle,�we also change not only our patients lives but their families as well.� We do this so that we may reach as many El Pasoans who need us, no matter the affordability issues.

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Chiropractic Clinic Extra: Herniated Disc Treatment

Mindfulness for Headache and Cervical Disc Herniation in El Paso, TX

Mindfulness for Headache and Cervical Disc Herniation in El Paso, TX

Stress is a result of the human body’s “fight or flight” response, a prehistoric defense mechanism triggered by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Stress is an essential component of survival. When stressors activate the fight or flight response, a mixture of chemicals and hormones are secreted into the blood flow, which prepare the body for perceived danger. Although short-term stress is helpful, however, long-term stress can lead to a variety of health issues. Furthermore, stressors in modern society have changed and it’s become more difficult for people to manage their stress and maintain mindfulness.


How Does Stress Affect the Body?


Stress can be experienced through three different channels: emotion; body and environment. Emotional stress involves adverse situations which affect our mind and decision making. Bodily stress includes improper nutrition and a lack of sleep. And finally, environmental stress occurs based on external experiences. When you experience any of these types of stressors, the sympathetic nervous system will trigger the “fight or flight” response, releasing adrenaline and cortisol to increase heart rate and heighten our senses to make us more alert in order to face the situation ahead of us.


However, if perceived stressors are always present, the SNS’s fight or flight response can remain active. Chronic stress can then lead to a variety of health issues, such as anxiety, depression, muscle tension, neck and back pain, digestive problems, weight gain and sleep problems as well as impaired memory and concentration. In addition, muscle tension along the spine due to stress can cause a spinal misalignment, or subluxation, which may in turn lead to disc herniation.


Headache and Disc Herniation from Stress


A herniated disc occurs when the soft, gel-like center of an intervertebral disc pushes through a tear in its outer, cartilage ring, irritating and compressing the spinal cord and/or the nerve roots. Disc herniation commonly occurs in the cervical spine, or neck, and in the lumbar spine, or low back. Symptoms of herniated discs depend on the location of the compression along the spine. Neck pain and back pain accompanied by numbness, tingling sensations and weakness along the upper and lower extremities are some of the most common symptoms associated with disc herniation. Headache and migraine are also common symptoms associated with stress and herniated discs along the cervical spine, as a result of muscle tension and spinal misalignment.


Mindfulness Interventions for Stress Management


Stress management is essential towards improving as well as maintaining overall health and wellness. According to research studies, mindfulness interventions, such as chiropractic care and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), among others, can safely and effectively help reduce stress. Chiropractic care utilizes spinal adjustments and manual manipulations to carefully restore the original alignment of the spine, relieving pain and discomfort as well as easing muscle tension. Additionally, a chiropractor may include lifestyle modifications to help further improve symptoms of stress.�A balanced spine can help the nervous system respond to stress more effectively. MBSR can also help reduce stress, anxiety and depression.


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If you are experiencing symptoms of stress with headache or migraine as well as neck and back pain associated with disc herniation, mindfulness interventions such as chiropractic care can be a safe and effective treatment for your stress. Dr. Alex Jimenez’s stress management services can help you achieve overall health and wellness. Seeking the proper mindfulness interventions can get you the relief you deserve. The purpose of the following article is to demonstrate the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction in patients with tension headache. Don’t just treat the symptoms, get to the source of the issue.


Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Perceived Stress and Psychological Health in Patients with Tension Headache




Background: Programs for improving health status of patients with illness related to pain, such as headache, are often still in their infancy. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a new psychotherapy that appears to be effective in treating chronic pain and stress. This study evaluated efficacy of MBSR in treatment of perceived stress and mental health of client who has tension headache.


Materials and Methods: This study is a randomized clinical trial. Sixty patients with tension type headache according to the International Headache Classification Subcommittee were randomly assigned to the Treatment As Usual (TAU) group or experimental group (MBSR). The MBSR group received eight weekly classmates with 12-min sessions. The sessions were based on MBSR protocol. The Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) and Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) were administered in the pre- and posttreatment period and at 3 months follow-up for both the groups.


Results: The mean of total score of the BSI (global severity index; GSI) in MBSR group was 1.63 � 0.56 before the intervention that was significantly reduced to 0.73 � 0.46 and 0.93 � 0.34 after the intervention and at the follow-up sessions, respectively (P < 0.001). In addition, the MBSR group showed lower scores in perceived stress in comparison with the control group at posttest evaluation. The mean of perceived stress before the intervention was 16.96 � 2.53 and was changed to 12.7 � 2.69 and 13.5 � 2.33 after the intervention and at the follow-up sessions, respectively (P < 0.001). On the other hand, the mean of GSI in the TAU group was 1.77 � 0.50 at pretest that was significantly reduced to 1.59 � 0.52 and 1.78 � 0.47 at posttest and follow-up, respectively (P < 0.001). Also, the mean of perceived stress in the TAU group at pretest was 15.9 � 2.86 and that was changed to 16.13 � 2.44 and 15.76 � 2.22 at posttest and follow-up, respectively (P < 0.001).


Conclusion: MBSR could reduce stress and improve general mental health in patients with tension headache.


Keywords: Mental health, tension headache, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), perceived stress, treatment as usual (TAU)


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Chiropractic care is an effective stress management treatment because it focuses on the spine, which is the base of the nervous system. Chiropractic utilizes spinal adjustments and manual manipulations to carefully restore the alignment of the spine in order to allow the body to naturally heal itself. A spinal misalignment, or subluxation, can create muscle tension along the spine and lead to a variety of health issues, including headache and migraine, as well as disc herniation and sciatica. Chiropractic care can also include lifestyle modifications, such as nutritional advice and exercise recommendations, to further enhance its effects. Mindfulness-based stress reduction can also effectively help with stress management and symptoms.




Tension headache constitutes 90% of total headaches. About 3% of the population are suffering from chronic tension headache.[1] Tension headaches are often associated with lower quality of life and high levels of psychological discomforts.[2] In recent years, several meta-analyses evaluating the established pain treatments used today have shown that medical treatments, which may be effective in acute pain, are not effective with chronic pain and may, in fact, be causing further problems. Most of the pain treatments are designed for and useful for acute pain but if used in the long run may create more problems such as substance abuse and avoidance of important activities.[3] A common element in most of the pain treatments is that they emphasize on either avoiding pain or fighting to reduce pain. The pain in tension headache can be intolerable. Painkillers and pain management strategies can increase intolerance and sensitivity to pain. Therefore, the treatments that increase acceptance and tolerance to pain, especially chronic pain, are effective. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a new psychotherapy that appears to be effective in improving physical performance and psychological well-being in patients with chronic pain.[4,5,6,7,8] In the past two decades, Kabat-Zinn et al. in the US successfully used mindfulness for the relief of pain and illness related to pain.[9] Recent studies on acceptance-based methods, such as mindfulness, show improved performance in patients with chronic pain. Mindfulness modulates the pain using nonelaborative awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations, and an emotionally distanced relationship with internal and external experience.[10] Studies found that MBSR program can significantly alleviate medical illness related to chronic pains such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic musculoskeletal pain, chronic low back pain, and multiple sclerosis.[7,11,12,13] MBSR has significant changes in pain intensity, anxiety, depression, somatic complaints, well-being, adaptation, quality of sleep, fatigue, and physical functioning.[6,14,15,16,17] But the programs for improving health status of patients with illness related to pain, such as tension headache, are often still in their infancy. Therefore, the study was conducted to assess the effects of MBSR on perceived stress and general mental health in patients with tension headache.


Materials and Methods


This randomized controlled clinical trial was performed in 2012 in Shahid Beheshti Hospital in Kashan City. The Research Ethics Committee of the Kashan University of Medical Sciences approved this study (IRCT No: 2014061618106N1). The participants of the study included adults with tension headache who were referred by the psychiatrists and neurologists in Kashan. The inclusion criteria were as follows: Having tension headache according to the International Headache Classification Subcommittee, willing to participate in the study, not having a medical diagnosis of organic brain disorder or psychotic disorder, and not having a history of psychological treatment during the preceding 6 months. The patients who did not complete the intervention and missed more than two sessions were excluded from the study. The participants, who signed an informed consent form, completed the measures as a pretest. For estimating the sample size, we referred to another study in which changes in mean of scores of fatigue was 62 � 9.5 in the pretreatment period and 54.5 � 11.5 in the posttreatment period.[18] Then, by utilizing the sample size calculation, 33 participants (with attrition risk) in each group with ? = 0.95 and 1 � ? = 0.9 were segregated. After sample size calculation, 66 patients with tension headache were selected via convenient sampling according to the inclusion criteria. Then, the patients were called and invited to participate in the study. If a patient agreed to participate, then he/she was invited to attend the study-briefing session and if not another patient was selected similarly. Then using a random number table, they were assigned either to the experimental group (MBSR) or to the control group that treated as usual. Finally, 3 patients were excluded from each group and 60 patients were included (30 patients in each group). The TAU group was treated only by antidepressant medication and clinical management. The MBSR group received MBSR training in addition to TAU. The patients in MBSR group were trained for 8 weeks by a clinical psychologist with PhD degree. The Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) and Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) were administered before the first treatment session in the MBSR group, after the eighth session (posttest), and 3 months after the test (follow-up) in both groups. The TAU group was invited to Shahid Beheshti Hospital to fill out the questionnaires. Figure 1 shows a Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) diagram depicting the flow of study participants.


Figure 1 CONSORT Diagram Depicting Flow of Study Participants

Figure 1: CONSORT diagram depicting flow of study participants.




The intervention group (MBSR) was trained in Shahid Beheshti Hospital. The eight weekly sessions (120 min) were held according to the standard MBSR protocol as developed by Kabat-Zinn.[11] Additional sessions were held for the participants who had missed one or two sessions. At the end of the training and 3 months later (follow-up), both MBSR and TAU groups were invited to Shahid Beheshti Hospital (the place of MBSR trial) and were instructed to complete the questionnaires. During the MBSR sessions, the participants were trained to be aware of their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations nonjudgmentally. Mindfulness exercises are taught as two forms of meditation practices � formal and informal. Formal type exercises include trained sitting meditation, body scan, and mindful yoga. In informal meditation, attention and awareness are focused not only on daily activities, but also on thoughts, feelings, and physical sensation even they are problematic and painful. The overall content of the sessions were mentioned in Table 1.


Table 1 Agendas for Sessions of MBSR

Table 1: Agendas for sessions of mindfulness-based stress reduction.


Measurement Tools


International Headache Classification Subcommittee Diary Scale for Headache


Headache was measured by diary scale for headache.[19] The patients were asked to record the pain severity diary on a 0-10 rating scale. Absence of pain and the most intense disabling headache were characterized by 0 and 10, respectively. The mean of headache severity in a week was calculated by dividing the sum of the severity scores by 7. Moreover, the mean of headache severity in a month was calculated by dividing the sum of the severity scores by 30. The minimum and maximum scores of headache severity were 0 and 10, respectively. Headache diary was given to five patients and a neurologist and a psychiatrist confirmed the content validity of the instrument.[20] The reliability coefficient of Persian version of this scale was calculated as 0.88.[20]


Brief symptom Inventory (BSI)


Psychological symptoms were assessed with the BSI.[21] The inventory consist 53 items and 9 subscales that assess psychological symptoms. Each item scores between 0 and 4 (for example: I have nausea or upset in my stomach). BSI has a global severity index (GSI) achieved a total score of 53 items. The reliability of the test has reported a score of 0.89.[22] In our study, GSI test�retest estimate was .90 based on a sample of 60 patients with tension headache who completed the BSI.


Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)


Perceived stress was assessed using the PSS,[21,23] a 10-item scale that assesses the degree of uncontrollable and unpredictable situations of life during the past month (for example: Felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life?). Respondents report the prevalence of an item within the last month on a 5-point scale, ranging from 0 (never) to 4 (very often). Scoring is completed by reverse scoring of four positively worded items[4,5,7,8] and summing all item scores. The scale scores range from 0-40. Higher scores indicate higher levels of stress. It assumes that people depending on their coping resources evaluate level of threatening or challenging events. A higher score indicates a greater degree of perceived stress. Adequate test�retest reliability and convergent and discriminate validity have also been reported.[19] In our study, Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for assessing internal consistency of this scale were calculated to be 0.88.


The repeated measures analysis of variance was performed to compare the MBSR and TAU groups on measures of perceived stress and GSI at pretreatment, posttreatment, and 3-month follow-up. Also, Chi-square test was used to compare the demographics in the two groups. P value less than 0.05 was considered significant in all tests.




Among 66 subjects, 2 participants from the MBSR group were excluded because of missing more than 2 sessions. Also, three participants were excluded because of did not complete the questionnaires in post-test or follow-up who one of them were from MBSR group and three participants from TAU group. Table 2 showed demographic characteristics of the subjects and results of the randomization check. The results of t-test for differences between the MBSR and TAU groups in age variable and Chi-square test in other variables showed that there was no significant difference between demographic variables in two groups and the subjects were randomly assigned to two groups.


Table 2 Demographic Characteristics of the Subjects

Table 2: Demographic characteristics of the subjects a,b.


Table 3 provides the mean scores and standard deviations of the dependent variables (perceived stress and GSI) and comparison of outcome measures at pretreatment period, post-treatment period, and 3-month follow-up.


Table 3 Means, Standard Deviations and Comparison of Outcome Measures

Table 3: Means, standard deviations, and comparison of outcome measures at pretreatment, posttreatment, and follow-up stages in the MBSR and TAU groups a,b.


Table 3 shows the more reduction in received stress and GSI in the intervention group (MBSR) compared to TAU group, while the reduction in received stress and GSI were not observed in the TAU group. The results revealed the significant effect of time and interaction between time and type of treatment on the changes of scores (P < 0.001).


Figures ?2 and ?3 present mean received stress and GSI scores for MBSR and TAU groups at posttest and follow-up stages.


Figure 2 CONSORT Diagram Depicting Flow of Study Participants

Figure 2: CONSORT diagram depicting flow of study participants.


Figure 3 Mean of Perceived Stress in MBSR and Control Groups

Figure 3: Mean of perceived stress in MBSR and control groups in pretest, posttest, and follow-up.




This study compared efficacy of MBSR and Treatment As Usual (TAU) in perceived stress and mental health of patients with tension headache. Although MBSR is recognized as an effective treatment for stress symptoms and pain, there is a need to examine its efficacy for the treatment of mental health problems in patients with tension headache, which is one of the common complaints in the population.


The findings of our study demonstrate enhanced general mental health in the GSI index of BSI. In some study, significant improvements by MBSR intervention were reported on all indexes of the 36-item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36).[20,24] Studies showed significant reduction in psychological problems in the Symptom Checklist-90-Revised (SCL-90-R) subscale such as anxiety and depression by MBSR after intervention and 1-year follow-up.[5] Reibel et al. showed MBSR in patients with chronic pain reported a decrease in medical symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and pain.[5] It has been shown that tension headache and anxiety are accompanied with deficits in controlled cognitive processing such as sustained attention and working memory.[25] Negative emotions may amplify suffering associated with pain perception.


MBSR implements the following mechanisms to improve the patient’s mental status: First, mindfulness leads to increased awareness for what is happening in each moment, with an accepting attitude, without getting caught up in habitual thoughts, emotions, and behavior patterns. The increased awareness then gives rise to new ways to respond and cope in relation to oneself and the world around.[3] Mindfulness establishes a sense of self that is greater than one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensation such as pain. Mindfulness exercises, learned clients develop an �observer�self�. With this ability, they can observe their thoughts and feelings in a nonreactive and nonjudgmental way that previously avoided, that previously avoided thoughts and feelings be observed in a nonreactive and nonjudgmental way. The clients learn to notice thoughts without necessarily acting on them, being controlled by them, or believing them.[3]


Second, mindfulness helps the client develop persistence in taking steps in valued directions that are important to them. Most clients with chronic pain want to become pain free rather than living the vital lives of their choice. But the MBSR program trained them to engage in valued action despite the the pain. Studies have shown attention and emotional reaction to pain has an important role in becoming persistent the pain.[26] Emotional and cognitive components can modulate attention to pain and worry about it that could intensify pain and disrupt the patients activities.[27,28]


Third, findings from some studies indicate that MBSR can alter the function of the brain that is responsible for affect regulation and the areas that govern how we react to stressful impulses, and this in turn may normalize body functions such as breathing, heart rate, and immune function.[29,30] Mindfulness practice reduces reactivity to distressing thoughts and feelings that comorbid and strengthen pain perception.[31] Also mindfulness may lessen psychophysiological activation related to stress and mood dysfunction by strengthening positive reappraisal and emotion regulation skills.[32]


The strength of this study is the use of a new effective psychotherapy in reducing the stress on a complaint that is less studied, but it is a common medical problem. The implications of our study are using a simple psychotherapy that does not make too much cognitive demand and is readily usable as a coping skill for the patient with tension headache. Therefore, the health-care professionals related to this complaint and the patient will be able to use this treatment. Also, MBSR will change the patient’s lifestyle who would be exacerbated by his/her problem. The main limitation of this study was the lack of comparison between MBSR and the gold standard psychotherapies such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). It is suggested that future studies need to compare the efficacy of MBSR and other traditional and newer cognitive behavioral therapies in patients with tension headache.




Our study supports the hypothesis that patients suffering from tension headache can enhance their general mental health by participating in the MBSR program. In summary, the results of the present study suggest that MBSR can reduce pain-related anxiety and interference in daily activities in the short term. The unique features of mindfulness exercises are easy training and no need to complex cognitive abilities.


Financial support and sponsorship: Nil.


Conflicts of interest: There are no conflicts of interest.


Author’s Contribution


AO contributed in the conception of the work, conducting the study, and agreed for all aspects of the work. FZ contributed in the conception of the work, revising the draft, approval of the final version of the manuscript and agreed for all aspects of the work.




Authors are grateful to the staff of Shahid Beheshti Hospital and participants. Authors also express their gratitude to Kabat-Zinn from the Center for Mindfulness (CFM) at the University of Massachusetts who graciously provided electronic copies of the MBSR guidelines.


In conclusion,�while short-term stress is helpful, long-term stress can eventually lead to a variety of health issues, including anxiety and depression as well as neck and back pain, headache and disc herniation. Fortunately, mindfulness interventions, such as chiropractic care and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) are safe and effective stress management alternative treatment options. Finally, the article above demonstrated evidence-based results that MBSR could reduce stress and improve general mental health in patients with tension headache. Information referenced from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic as well as to spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .


Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez




Additional Topics: Back Pain


According to statistics, approximately 80% of people will experience symptoms of back pain at least once throughout their lifetimes. Back pain is a common complaint which can result due to a variety of injuries and/or conditions. Often times, the natural degeneration of the spine with age can cause back pain. Herniated discs occur when the soft, gel-like center of an intervertebral disc pushes through a tear in its surrounding, outer ring of cartilage, compressing and irritating the nerve roots. Disc herniations most commonly occur along the lower back, or lumbar spine, but they may also occur along the cervical spine, or neck. The impingement of the nerves found in the low back due to injury and/or an aggravated condition can lead to symptoms of sciatica.


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