When people say they have a “slipped” or “ruptured” disc, what they are actually describing is a herniated disc.
Discs are soft, gelatin-like pads found between the hard bones (vertebrae) that constitute the spinal column. The discs allow the back to flex or bend and also act as shock absorbers for the spine.
Discs in the lumbar spine are made of a thick outer ring of cartilage (annulus) and an inner gel-like substance (nucleus). In the cervical spine, the discs are similar but smaller in size.
In children and young adults, discs have high water content. As people get older, the water content decreases and discs become less flexible. The discs begin to shrink and the spaces between the vertebrae can grow narrower. Being overweight and smoking can also weaken discs, as can improper lifting, sudden pressure, and repetitive strenuous activities.
A herniated or ruptured disc occurs when part of the center nucleus pushes through the outer edge of the disc and back toward the spinal canal. This condition puts pressure on the nerves and can result in pain, numbness, or weakness in the neck, back, arm or legs.