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Understanding Spinal Disk Problems -- the Basics

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Understanding Spinal Disk Problems -- Herniated Disk continued...

The vast majority of disk injuries occur in the lumbar region of the lower back. Only 10% of these injuries affect the upper spine. Not all herniated disks press on nerves, however, and it is entirely possible to have deformed disks without any pain or discomfort.

Herniated disks are most common in men and women ages 30 to 50, although they also occur in active children and young adults. Older people, whose disks no longer have fluid cores, are much less likely to encounter the problem. People who do regular, moderate exercise are much less likely to suffer from disk problems than sedentary adults. People who exercise tend to stay flexible considerably longer. Maintaining a normal body weight is also important in preventing back problems.

What Causes a Herniated Disk?

Although a violent injury can damage a disk, problems with disks are often brought on by the normal aging process or by everyday activities, such as lifting heavy objects the wrong way, stretching too hard during a tennis volley, or slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk. Any such event can cause the fibrous outer covering of the disk to break or distort to the point that it presses on a spinal nerve, especially if disk material extrudes. Sometimes, a disk swells, tears, or degenerates without any apparent cause. 

Understanding Spinal Disk Problems -- Degenerative Disk Disease

Disk problems are sometimes lumped together under the term degenerative disk disease. Change in the condition of the disk is a natural result of aging. This is part of our gradual loss of flexibility as we grow older.

But disk degeneration is far more serious in some people than in others. Severe cases may be the result of a deficiency in collagen, the material that makes up cartilage. Poor muscle tone, poor posture, and obesity also put excessive strain on the spine and the ligaments that hold the disks in place.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on March 08, 2014
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