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Discs and Low Back Pain

Posted May 05 2009 6:02pm

A common cause of low back pain is the disc, a structure made out of cartilage which sits between the bones that make up the spinal column, called vertebrae. The disc serves to cushion the vertebrae and absorb shock as you move, allowing for motion and spacing between the vertebrae. This allows nerves to pass freely from the spinal cord, which the bones surround and protect, to the muscles and organs of the body. Discs can degenerate with age or with an arthritic condition, or can be displaced by constant or sudden activity which can violently affect surrounding musculature. This can cause the musculature to pull on the vertebrae at the places where they attach, and force the disc to displace to the side, the front, or the back. Signs of a possible disc problem are a sharp pain or numbness arising from the low back and radiating down one or both legs, often past the knee.
Constant sitting puts excess pressure on the discs, as the discs have the most pressure on them in the seated position because the rest of the spine loads up on it. The discs in the lowest part of the back are most at risk due to their bearing the most weight. A condition called spinal stenosis can develop from a disc, which can compress the nerves of the spinal cord and can cause various neurological problems that should be reported to a qualified physician or facility immediately. Any interference with bowel or bladder control should be considered a medical emergency until proven otherwise.

Frequently on an MRI you will see some evidence of some disc displacement. This does not necessarily mean that this is the problem. Many problems can manifest themselves in the low back and radiate down one leg and be felt as a soreness, or they may stop in the buttock or just below it, anywhere down to the knee.

Many times a disc will be displaced but will not press on a nerve and will cause either no symptoms or local discomfort only. Conservative methods are many times effective in treatment of disc problems, including chiropractic adjustments to realign the vertebrae in the spine allowing the disc to go back to it’s proper position, and other modalities including acupuncture and electric stimulation or ultrasound which can loosen the surrounding musculature with the same effect. When conservative methods fail or are not appropriate, orthopedic or surgical consult is indicated.

Dr. Kertz can be reached at 847.823.7888 or at
His practice is located at 8062 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Niles.


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