Decayed, Degenerated, Bulged, Herniated & Ruptured Discs

Different Kinds of Spinal Disc Conditions

The three most common conditions involving spinal discs are those involving degenerated, bulged and herniated discs.  This short article will explain the differences and how they occur.  First, a brief description of what a spinal disc is.

Shock Absorbers of the Spine

Not to be confused with the vertebrae themselves, discs are soft, cushiony pads that fit between the vertebras.   They provide shock absorption for the spine against the weight of gravity, in order to help prevent the vertebrae themselves from fracturing and breaking under gravitational stress and movement.

Discs are often described as looking like a jelly-filled doughnut and are made up of two parts.  The outer aspect of the disc is called the annulus fibrosis.  It is layered together like the rings of an onion, and is known as the containment ring that holds in the nucleus.  The nucleus is the inner part of the disc containing a pressurized gel-like substance, that when contained within the annulus forms the shock absorbing qualities of the spinal discs.

The discs also form a joint between each vertebra in order that the spine can bend, flex, turn and rotate from side to side.  Because the discs are composed of approximately 70% fluids, they are often referred to as “miniature waterbeds” for the vertebrae to rest upon.

Degenerated Disc

Also known as a decayed or thinned disc.  Discs are composed of a highly specialized, fluid-filled cartilage.  Under normal circumstances, a spinal disc can be likened to a can of new play dough.  Fresh out of the can, the play dough is soft, flexible and pliable.  If the lid is left off the can, the play dough dries, causing it to become hard, inflexible and subject to shrinking.

When the fluids dry out, caused by deficient disc nutrition brought about by mechanical distortions in the vertebra, the disc begins collapsing under the weight of the body.  This is much like taking your hands and squeezing together a sandwich, making it thinner.  The thinned disc allows the vertebra to compress the nerves, resulting in pain, numbness and a vast array of other symptoms.

If neglected, it most always develops into spinal arthritis, which is just another word for spinal decay.

Bulging Disc

Also known as a wedged or protruding disc.  A bulging disc is formed when the outer, rings in the disc weaken and tear.  The pressurized jelly-like center pushes out toward the weaker area of least resistance in the outer wall.  The weaker the outer wall become, the more the bulge grows and protrudes.

A bulging disc is like a weak spot on an inner tube that forms a bubble on the area of weakness. When the bulge pushes out so far as to put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, pain usually appears.

The larger the bulge the more pain it produces.  This disc problem is typically found when you see an individual all bent over and leaning to one side or the other because of back pain.  It happens because the disc bulge forms itself into something that looks like a door stop. A bulging disc is just one step shy of a herniated disc.

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc is what happens when the fibrous rings on the outer aspect of the disc give way to the pressure of the jelly-like nucleus inside, allowing these substance to leak outside the disc.

A herniated disc is also frequently referred to as a ruptured or prolapsed disc.

It is much like toothpaste squirting out of tube, or the bursting of a water balloon.

A herniated disc represents a total failure of the disc structure, and is often viewed as the most serious disc challenge of all.

“Slipped” Disc

A slipped disc is a misnomer; a commonly misused term that is usually associated with the most common use of layman’s terminology, and usually represents a disc bulge.

As the disc shrinks and expands as is commonly found with disc bulges, it provides the sensation of something going “in” or “out” of place.

In reality, nothing goes out.  Rather, the fibrous containment band tears.  This leads to the term false term of a disc that has  “slipped.”

It surprises most people to learn that disc can decay, degenerated, thin, bulge, protrude, wedge, herniated, rupture or prolapsed, but because of tight ligament bands that surround the disc, it is simply impossible for a disc to “slip.”

Only as Strong as Its Weakest Link

The 24 moveable vertebrae and the disc that fit between them that form the spine as a whole are much like the links making up a chain.   A chain is only as strong as it weakest link.  A damaged disc is most always that weak link in the spines of most people.

For a complete article about spinal disc problems and how non-surgical disc decompression therapy may be able to help, please go to

About the author: Dr. Jack Adrian is a chiropractor with more than 30 years experience in the field of chiropractic.   He is a practicing physician and Director of ChiroCenter in Troy, Ohio and has served more than 25,000 individuals in his career.

For help with any additional questions or to set up a complimentary conference to discuss your concerns, feel free to call ChiroCenter in Troy, Ohio at 937-339-5556.

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