Torn Disc

A torn disc is a medical term used to describe the event where the outer envelope of the intervertebral disc of the spine tears completely, causing its contents in its interior to spill through. The most common term used to describe this tear is a herniated disc or a slipped disc. Other medical terms that describe an intervertebral disc tear include a black disc, disc disease, disc protrusion, ruptured disc, bulging disc, and pinched nerve. It should be noted, however, that just because a disc bulges or herniates does not necessarily mean that the part of the disc moving outwards will impact the spinal nerves.

When a disc herniates but the spinal nerves are not affected, many patients will actually no pain at all. This outer portion of the disc is known as the annulus fibrosis, and the inner portion of the disc is the nucleus pulposus. Due to injury or the age related effects of time, this disc may become damaged in its outer section (the annulus) or its inner section (nucleus pulposus).

The annulus fibrosus is designed to be firm and rigid, so that the disc has enough strength to maintain its basic shape. The contents of the nucleus pulposus together produce a jelly-like mass of material that provides the cushioning properties of the disc as gravity presses the spine downwards.

Due to injury or time related wear and tear, the disc may become weak in its outer section, which makes part of it swell outwards. When this outward swelling presses into the spinal nerves and other soft tissue structures of the spine, a patient may experience pain and other symptoms related to the bulge's effects on the spinal nerves. At some point, this bulge in the disc wall may completely give way to a full blown tear. If the disc wall becomes completely torn, it may press through and outside of the disc and affect other structures in the spine.

It should be noted that even though herniated discs and bulging disc describe two different conditions that the discs may go through, they are often used interchangeably to describe the cause of a patient's back pain condition. Indeed, either of these conditions may have the same effects on the spinal nerves, depending on whether or not they are impacted.

Is the back pain directly caused by disc disease? This is the main question that your doctor will want to know; because it may affect the type of treatment program he puts you own. You may experience back pain or neck pain directly from the discs, as the outer envelope ruptures or it loses its volume of jellylike material in its center. Today it is understood that the discs themselves are supplied with nerve endings. Because of this fact, we now know that the source of the pain, also known as the pain generator, may come from inside the disc.

It will be determined that the cause of pain is due to a pinched nerve if its source comes from the spinal nerves that are constricted by the disc material pressing into it.

It will be determined that the cause of pain is due to disc pain (aka discogenic pain) if its source comes from within the disc itself. Some things that will point towards disc pain as the cause of pain is if the pain does not radiate down one arm or leg and if there are positive findings from a diagnostic test called a discogram. During this test, a person will lay down in the prone position on an exam table. The exam will involve using CT X-Ray or X-Ray Fluoroscopy to guide a needle directly in the disc thought to be the source of pain. The needle will deliver an anesthetic into the disc. If the patient reports immediate pain relief, then that is a confirmation of disc pain.