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A while back, if someone young complains about back pain, another person would react by saying, “Iyeer you’re not old, why do you have back pain?”.  

Now, back pain is more common even among the younger generation. The increasing use and reliance on smartphones and computers in everyday life affects posture and gives unwanted strains on our backs.

There are many reasons why our backs might be in pain, some are harmless and can be easily understood. However, disc injuries such as herniated discs, or more commonly known as slipped discs, are a little harder to understand and can seriously affect mobility. 

Thankfully, jelly donuts can help us understand these conditions better! Let’s explore the terms used to describe forms of spinal disc injuries.

Disclaimer: We are not responsible for any slipped discs experienced from picking up a box of donuts after reading this post.

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What are discs?

Spinal discs, or intervertebral discs, are essentially shock absorbers of the spine.

It is composed of two parts: a tough elastic outer part (the bread part of the donut) and a softer gel-like inner substance (the jelly).

These discs, located between vertebrae along our backbone, help us walk, run, jump and even do “The Twist” (a type of dance, for our young readers).

Types of disc injury

Disc injuries can be categorised into two:

  1. Degenerative disc disease
  2. Bulging, herniated disc

Bulging and herniated discs are grouped together because they are simply different stages of the same condition.

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Degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of back pain. “Degenerative” describes the process of the disc degenerating over time. 

Despite it being known as a disease, it is not. It is simply a natural process of wear and tear of the disc as we age.

Over time, the discs lose fluid causing them to become thinner. When this happens, the discs become less effective as shock absorbers.

In donut analogy, degenerative disc disease is when the jelly donut does not look as fresh as it did after coming out of the oven. The jelly is still inside, but you can see that it has been out on the counter for a while.

Bulging disc

Similar to degenerative disc disease, bulging disc is also due to wear-and-tear. 

As we age, the gel inside the disc wears away, making the disc dehydrated. This change causes the disc’s outer layer to compress and lose flexibility, eventually bulging out due to the lack of gel on the inside. 

If the bulge starts to compress any nerves, some symptoms such as pain and weakness may appear.

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Imagine repetitively pressing the donut. Eventually, it will stop returning to its original round-ish form after every press and becomes flat. 

Although this condition is not as severe as a herniated disc, it is a cause for concern.

Herniated Disc

By applying more pressure to that already flat and unappetizing donut, the jelly on the inside will start to ooze out, losing its structure and eventually breaking apart.

That is what a herniated disc looks like.

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Herniated discs are also known as ruptured discs or, more famously, slipped discs. Contrary to its name, a disc does not actually slip out when this happens. 

What does “slip out” is the gel-like substance. The pressure applied to the bulging disc eventually causes the tougher outer layer to crack, allowing the soft gel-like inner core to leak. 

If the gel-like substance compresses the nerves, generally, symptoms such as pain, numbness, pins & needles, and weakness.

While surgeries are not required for most people, in cases where nerves are involved, surgery may be the only way to resolve the pain and disability experienced.

Although slipped discs are known to cause significant pain, It is common for people to experience disc herniation without any pain or symptoms.

Visit our excellent specialists from our Bone and Joint Centre of Excellence to find out more about your spine health. We are always ready to assist you in resolving any forms of spinal issues that you may be experiencing.

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Dato’ Dr Lee Joon Kiong DSPN DJN

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

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Dato’ Dr Lee Joon Kiong DSPN DJN

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

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