If you’ve been informed that your neck pain, back pain or other symptoms is being caused by a herniated nucleus pulposus, it can be helpful to learn more about this condition, the types of herniated nucleus pulposus that can occur and why they develop. The spine is made up of vertebrae and discs that support the upper body and surround and protect the spinal cord and exiting nerve roots. The discs have a pliable fibrous outer shell, called the annulus fibrosus, which contains the nucleus pulposus, a gelatinous center made up of water and proteins. A herniated nucleus pulposus happens when a tear occurs in the annulus fibrosus that spans from the outer layer of the disc all the way to the nucleus, allowing inner material to be pushed out into the spinal column.
Types of herniated nucleus pulposus
A herniated nucleus pulposus can occur on any disc in the spine, but most frequently appears in the cervical (upper) spine and the lumbar (lower) spine. These areas of the spine are particularly susceptible to disc injury because of the stress they are placed under from regular use over the years.
A herniated nucleus pulposus does not always cause pain, but you can experience a wide variety of symptoms depending on a few factors. This includes the type of tear in the outer layer and whether the nucleus pulposus materials are compressing or irritating a nearby nerve, such as the spinal cord or a nerve root. Symptoms also can vary according to the specific location of the injured disc in the spinal column.
Symptoms of the types of herniated nucleus pulposus
Cervical nerve roots, labeled C1 – C8, that become inflamed by a herniated nucleus pulposus can cause the corresponding symptoms:
- C1 and C2. There is no disc between the first two cervical vertebrae, labeled C1 and C2, but if the nerve roots in this area are affected by disc herniation between the next pair of cervical vertebrae (C2 and C3), symptoms could include a tingling discomfort in the neck and base of the skull, problems with neck and head mobility, headaches and pain in the temples
- C3 and C4. Pain at the base of the neck, a pins-and-needles feeling in the upper shoulders or headaches behind the eyes and ears
- C5 and C6. Weakness or pain that radiates through the upper arms, biceps, forearms, wrists and thumbs
- C7 and C8. Numbness, weakness or a pins-and-needles sensation that travels through the triceps, hands and fingers
Lumbar nerve roots, labeled L1 – L5, that become compressed by a herniated nucleus pulposus can cause the corresponding symptoms:
- L1. Weakness or tingling in the groin or upper thigh areas
- L2. Pain around the mid-thighs and buttocks
- L3. A pins-and-needles sensation or numbness in the knees and distal thighs
- L4. Weakness or tingling in the buttocks, thighs, knees, lower legs and big toes
- L5. Radiating pain through the legs, buttocks, feet and toes
Upon diagnosis of most types of herniated nucleus pulposus, treatment begins conservatively with options like rest, medication, physical therapy and spinal injections. Surgery is usually considered a last resort, but it may be seriously considered if weeks or months of conservative treatment do not bring relief. To learn more, contact USA Spine Care. Our team can help you understand your condition and different treatment options, including our minimally invasive spine surgery
We’re happy to provide a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.
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