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Is there a difference between discopathy and disc herniation?

The spine is a complex part of the anatomy, so it is not surprising that the terminology associated with it is complex and often overlaps. Some believe that discopathy and herniated disc are two separate things, but this is not the case. Discopathy is another word for disc herniation and we use it most often as a short name for its most common form – “lumbo-sacral discopathy”.

At the same time, “discopathy” is sometimes trivially and erroneously called the condition in which a disc protrudes. These two conditions are the most common spine problems faced by patients, but it can be difficult to understand exactly what they are and how to distinguish between them. Although there are clear differences between the two conditions, which require correspondingly different treatments, the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, which is misleading.

The following is an overview of the definitions of spinal disc protrusion and disc herniation, through which you can better understand your condition and how to improve it. Use this guide to ask your doctor questions so that you can work together to make a plan for a more comfortable and active lifestyle.


What is a protruding disk?

The spine consists of segments, and between them are the so-called. spinal discs. These are soft, porous shock absorbers that protect our spine, thus allowing it to be more flexible. Each of these discs consists of a jelly-like inner part and a harder outer part, which serves as protection.

However, as the spine ages, the discs also tend to dehydrate and harden. A common effect of these dehydration and hardening processes is that the disc may compress and therefore flatten slightly. As a result, its outer fibrous part may “swell” in the spinal canal.

In this situation, it can be described as a burger that is too big for the cake we are trying to put it in. This condition is not considered pathological, but is considered to be a normal part of a person’s aging.

While bulging discs can sometimes contribute to nerve compression in the spinal canal, they are very common and in isolation usually do not cause symptoms. By itself, a protruding disc in the absence of stenosis or any other pathology rarely requires treatment.

What is a herniated disc?

Disc herniation occurs when there is a hole in the outer layer of the disc, allowing a large piece of the inside to “escape”, or when the outer layer simply becomes so thin and taut that much of the inside can migrate. in the spinal canal. Medical professionals sometimes call the first situation “extrusion” – a real disc herniation. “Sequestration” – “free fragment” – can also occur. The second case is called “protrusion” – “retained fragment”.



Once in the spinal canal, the disc fragments could cause compression of the so-called. nerve roots, and also of the spinal cord itself. Then the nerve roots become inflamed and we get radiculitis, which can be cervical, thoracic, and lumbosacral (in the waist and lumbar region). Disc herniations and protrusions can occur in the spine at any level. However, they are most often seen in the lower lumbar segments and also around the neck.

It is possible for bouts of herniated discs to bend to one side in an analgesic position – usually in the opposite direction to the hernia – during attacks of very intense pain. In this position the movements are limited, but the pain is temporarily blunted.

In the case of a larger median hernia, as well as in the case of a disc herniation above the L1-L2 level, pelvic-reservoir disorders can be observed, which involves retention or discharge of urine or spontaneous defecation, as well as acute pain in the lower extremities. Certain areas may lose their senses.

We can try to illustrate the difference between a protruding disc and a disc herniation by imagining another type of food – a donut with jelly. The protruding disc, which is slightly flattened, is like an intact donut with jelly. However, the disc herniation is more reminiscent of what we can observe if the surface of this donut is torn or broken and some of the jelly in it leaks.

Causes of “bulging disc” and “disc herniation” conditions

Part of the reason it is difficult to distinguish the condition of a protruding disc from that of a disc herniation lies in the fact that the reasons for both are similar. Both can be caused by repetitive spinal strain, poor sitting / standing position, and spinal injuries, as well as natural wear and tear, and more.

Дископатия и болки в гърба

In fact, some herniated discs were initially protruding, which worsened due to some combination of the above factors. Therefore, prevention is of particular importance. Even if only in the name of preventing the deterioration of the already existing condition, a doctor can prepare an individual program with various steps to help strengthen the health of your spine.

Conservative treatment methods, which include rest and possible analgesia, as well as a regime of physical activity and physiotherapy, often give good results. However, these measures work best in milder disc herniations, in the early stages of herniation, and in the presence of small disc herniations. More persistent pain, which cannot be improved, leads to surgery.

Similarities and differences in the symptoms of the two conditions

When the disc is herniated, it may irritate and / or begin to compress nearby spinal nerves. Such irritation and mechanical compression are among the main causes of pain and discomfort shared by patients with disc pathology. However, there are differences in the frequency and severity of the symptoms we experience with protruding and herniated discs, respectively.

Both conditions can lead to back and leg pain, tingling, numbness, motor weakness or loss to a greater or lesser extent of the ability to move, and lack of knee reflex. However, these symptoms are much more common in patients with herniated discs. Because the disc material is better retained in the protruding disc than the disc with the hernia, in the first case there is less likelihood of nerve irritation or compression.

The only way to confirm whether the disc is only swollen or herniated is by applying magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A computed tomography (CT) scan may also be done. However, even if tests confirm the presence of a herniated disc, it may still not be the cause of your pain.

Many people show MRI evidence of swelling and herniated discs, but report no pain or discomfort. The best way to find out the exact condition of your spine is to have a physical examination and talk to a doctor.

Concluding thoughts

Spinal terminology is complex and often used inaccurately, which is why people with spinal problems and complaints often have difficulty understanding it. Protruding discs and disc herniation are two separate conditions, but due to the similarity between their causes, symptoms, and effects, patients are often unsure which of the two best matches their specific symptoms.

Most patients with timely detection and proper treatment, of relatively small disc herniations can recover within 3 to 5 months. On the other hand, if timely measures are not taken, discopathy can cause permanent damage to the nerves, which over time can cause interruption of the impulses that flow through them.

The best way to be informed and competent about the health of your own spine is to do tests and examinations, as well as ask the right questions about your condition.

back pain 1

При прилагане на правилното лечение повечето пациенти с навреме открити сравнително малки дискови хернии успяват да се възстановят в рамките на 3 до 5 месеца. За сметка на това, ако не бъдат взети навременни мерки, дископатията може да причини трайно увреждане на нервите, което с течение на времето да причини прекъсване на импулсите, които протичат през тях.

Най-добрият начин да бъдете информирани и компетентни по отношение на здравето на собствения Ви гръбначен стълб е да правите изследвания и прегледи, както и да задавате правилните въпроси за състоянието си.

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