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Spinal Disc Treatment in Illinois

Understanding Disc Issues

Spine Anatomy

The spine, also known as the vertebral column or backbone, is a complex structure that provides stability and flexibility to the body. The spine consists of a series of bones called vertebrae, stacked on top of each other, that begin at the base of the skull and extend down to the pelvis. The vertebrae form the body's central axis and protect the spinal cord, a vital part of the nervous system that transmits signals between the brain and the rest of the body.


There are three prominent vertebrae sections in the spine.

1. Cervical Spine (Neck): The cervical spine is the uppermost region of the spine, consisting of seven vertebrae (C1-C7). These vertebrae are the smallest and most flexible vertebrae in the spine. The cervical spine allows for a wide range of motion in the neck, including flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral bending.

2. Thoracic Spine (Upper Back): The thoracic spine is the middle region of the spine, consisting of 12 vertebrae (T1-T12). It is less mobile than the cervical spine because it is attached to the ribs. The thoracic spine helps to support the chest wall and protect the lungs and heart.

3. Lumbar Spine (Lower Back): The lumbar spine is the lowest region of the spine, consisting of five vertebrae (L1-L5). It is also the largest and strongest region because it supports most of the body's weight and allows for some flexion, extension, and lateral bending.


Spinal discs are flat, round structures between your spine’s bones (vertebrae). They act like gel-filled cushions that absorb shock and provide flexibility to your spine. Each disc has a tough outer ring and a soft inner center. Spinal discs play a vital role in keeping your spine healthy and mobile. They allow you to bend, twist, and move your back comfortably without pain. However, these discs can degenerate and weaken over time, leading to various back problems.

Most Common Spinal Disc Problems

Prolapsed Disc (Herniated Disc or Disc Extrusion): Prolapsed discs are the most common and well-known disc problem. They occur when the disc’s tough outer ring (annulus fibrosus) weakens or tears, allowing the soft inner material (nucleus pulposus) to bulge or leak out. Depending on the location of the herniation, this bulge can press on nearby nerves in the spinal canal, causing pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness.

Disc Bulge (Disc Protrusion): Similar to a herniated disc, this condition occurs when the inner part of the spinal disc starts to dessicate, or dry out, leading to loss of height and circumferential protrusion of the outer annulus. Typically, a bulging disc is less severe than a herniation.

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD): DDD is not a specific disease process but rather a general term for the natural breakdown of discs that occurs with age. The discs lose water content, becoming stiffer and less flexible. Although Degenerative Disc Disease might not cause symptoms, it can contribute to other disc issues.

Symptoms of Spinal Disc Issues

  • Lower Back Pain: The most common location for disc issues is the lower back, causing a dull ache or sharp pain in the lower back.
  • Radiating Pain: Pain that travels down the leg (sciatica) or arm, depending on the affected nerve's location. The pain might worsen with specific movements like coughing, sneezing, or bending.
  • Muscle Strain or Stiffness: Disc problems can strain surrounding muscles, leading to stiffness and difficulty moving your back comfortably.
  • Numbness or Tingling: Depending on the location of the compressed nerve, this can occur in the buttocks, legs, feet, arms, or hands.
  • Weakness: Muscles controlled by the affected nerve may feel weak, making it difficult to perform everyday activities.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. They will determine the cause of your symptoms and a treatment plan accordingly.

What Causes Spinal Disc Problems?

Spinal disc problems can stem from multiple sources that lead to the deterioration and malfunction of the discs responsible for supporting the spine. Below are a few of the primary contributing factors:

  • Repetitive Strain: Repetitive strain from activities like heavy lifting, awkward postures, or jobs with frequent bending and twisting can accelerate disc wear and tear. Improper lifting techniques, where you lift with your back rounded instead of using your legs, put excessive stress on the discs.
  • Weakened Core Muscles: Good posture relies on strong core muscles that support your spine and hold it in a neutral position. Poor posture often indicates weak core muscles, which cannot adequately support the spine. This weakness leaves the discs vulnerable to strain and injury from everyday activities.
  • Weight: Excess body weight strains the entire spine, including the discs. Maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the risk of disc issues.
  • Smoking: Smoking reduces blood flow to the discs, hindering the delivery of oxygen and nutrients needed for proper disc health. This can accelerate disc degeneration.
  • Injuries: Sudden injuries like falls or accidents can damage discs, causing tears or herniations.
  • Degenerative Disc Disease: Change in the condition of the disc is a natural result of aging. This is a gradual loss of flexibility as we grow older.
  • Stretching: Daily stretching is recommended.

Diagnosis of Disc Problems

To accurately diagnose disc problems, your doctor will take a comprehensive medical history, perform a thorough physical examination, and utilize advanced imaging tests.

Your medical history is an essential tool in helping determine back disc issues. It provides crucial information on any previous injuries, illnesses, and conditions that may have contributed to developing a disc issue. It can also help identify genetic factors or lifestyle habits that may increase the risk of developing disc issues.

The physical examination will include an inspection or observation of gait, range of motion testing, an assessment strength and sensation, and an evaluation of reflexes. X-Rays help examine the spine’s overall bone structure and alignment. These can help detect fractures or other irregularities. Advanced imaging techniques, such as MRI or CT scans produce highly detailed cross-sectional images of the spine. These techniques give doctors a more precise look at surrounding soft tissues like the discs, spinal cord, and nerves. Advanced imaging is performed to change management when more conservative treatments are ineffective at alleviating your pain.

Spinal Disc Treatment

Non-surgical treatment options should be fully exhausted before considering surgical options for treating disc issues.

Non-Surgical Treatments

Rest and Activity Modification: Rest is only recommended in small doses, particularly right after an injury. More importantly, avoid activities that may aggravate the symptoms to

help relieve pain and allow the disc to heal. Maintaining moderate activity levels and avoiding prolonged sitting or standing is important.

  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can develop an exercise program to strengthen and stretch the muscles supporting the spine, improving posture and reducing pressure on the affected disc. PT is almost always recommended to alleviate pain complaints as a first-line treatment. The therapist treats the symptoms with techniques, then teaches you how to prevent a recurrence of the injury.
  • Spinal Traction: This involves gently stretching the spine to relieve pressure on the spinal discs. This may be performed with your physical therapist or chiropractor for symptom relief
  • Medications: To reduce pain and inflammation, over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen, may be recommended. In more severe cases, prescription anti-inflammatory pain medications, such as steroids, or muscle relaxants may also be prescribed.
  • Injections: In chronic cases, steroid injections can reduce inflammation and pain. These injections are usually guided by X-ray imaging and performed by a pain management specialist.


Surgery for spinal disc problems is typically necessary when conservative treatments, such as medication, physical therapy, or spinal injections, have been unsuccessful in relieving symptoms. Other indicators that may require surgery include:

  • Nerve Compression: If the spinal disc is pressing on a nerve, causing severe pain or weakness, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure.
  • Progressive Symptoms: If the symptoms of a spinal disc problem continue to worsen, even with non-surgical treatments, or nerve-related symptoms are progressing, surgery may be needed to relieve symptoms.
  • Recurrent Disc Herniation: If a previously treated disc herniation reoccurs and causes persistent symptoms, surgery may be the only option to relieve symptoms.

Talk to your Orthopedic Spine Surgeon about what type of surgery is recommended for your specific condition.

Preventing Disc Issues

To prevent back disc problems, here are a few essential techniques you can include in your daily routine:

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess weight strains your spine, including the discs. Aim for a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
  • Strengthen Your Core and Back Muscles: Strong core and back muscles help support your spine and take pressure off the discs. Regular exercises targeting these muscle groups are crucial.
  • Practice Good Posture: Standing tall with your shoulders back and relaxed and your core engaged helps maintain proper spinal alignment. Be mindful of your posture throughout the day while sitting, standing, and walking.
  • Use Proper Lifting Techniques: Always lift with your legs, not your back. Bend your knees and squat to lift objects, keeping your back straight and core engaged. Avoid twisting your spine while lifting.
  • Stay Active: Regular exercise strengthens muscles and improves flexibility, both of which help protect your discs. Choose activities you enjoy, such as walking, swimming, yoga, or Pilates.
  • Quit Smoking: Smoking reduces blood flow to the discs, accelerating their degeneration. Quitting smoking can significantly improve your overall health and disc health.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any pain or discomfort in your back. Do not ignore it – address it early with rest, ice, or heat therapy. If the pain persists, consult a healthcare professional.

By incorporating these tips into your routine, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing disc issues and maintain a healthy back for years. Making these practices a regular part of your life will go a long way in protecting your spine and preventing back pain.

If you are experiencing back pain, it is important to consult a healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis and discuss treatment options. Early intervention can help manage symptoms and prevent further complications.

Contact Us Today

If you are experiencing symptoms related to disc problems, our team can provide a diagnosis. Based on your specific needs, our orthopedic specialists will create a treatment plan that best suits you.

Schedule an appointment online or call 630-584-1400.