A herniated disc occurs when an intervertebral disc suffers damage and ruptures, releasing its gel-like internal contents into the surrounding nerve-rich space.
Each delicate vertebra of your spine is cushioned by a shock-absorbing intervertebral disc. Similar to the structure of a jelly donut, the anatomy of an intervertebral disc consists of a tire-like outer casing that encapsulates a gel-filled center. These elastic discs function to safeguard your spine from traumatic injury and to permit for the optimal flexibility of your neck and back. Unfortunately, these rubbery discs are not invulnerable to injury.
Wear and tear from repetitive lifting or the natural consequences of the aging process can cause micro-tears to appear on the exterior of an intervertebral disc. A damaged disc may then develop a protrusion, or bulge outward from the point of exterior weakness.
When a bulging disc ruptures, or herniates, the gelatinous nucleus of the intervertebral disc oozes outside of its protective casing, irritating nearby nerves and generating searing pain.