There are many different terms used to describe spinal disc pathology and associated pain, such as herniated disc, pinched nerve, bulging disc, slipped disc, collapsed disc, and disc protrusion. An MRI scan can be reviewed and interpreted by two different physicians, and one will provide an impression of disc bulge and the other may indicate herniation. These terms are used interchangeably by different doctors.
In short, though the intervertebral discs are cartilaginous plates surrounded by a fibrous ring which lies between the vertebral bodies and serves to cushion them. Through degeneration, wear and tear, or trauma, the fibrous tissue (annulus fibrosus) constraining the soft disc material (nucleus pulposus) may tear. This results in protrusion of the disc or even extrusion of disc material into the spinal canal or neural foramen. This has been called herniated disc, ruptured disc, herniated nucleus pulposus, or prolapsed disc.
We find many of our clients are frustrated when they hear their diagnosis referred to in different terms by different doctors. We often advise our clients to not focus on the diagnosis, but to gain an understanding of the cause of their symptoms. In many cases, a lumbar MRI may demonstrate a disc bulge indenting on the thecal sac or a disc herniation may be causing spinal or foraminal stenosis. Many people don’t know what these terms are, but what is truly important is to understand what is causing your symptoms.
If you have multiple level spinal disorders, it may be that only one level is causing your symptoms such as low back pain, leg pain, numbness or weakness. Suppose you have an MRI scan that demonstrates multi-level degeneration, bulging at three levels and what has been described as herniations at two levels in the lumbar spine. You may need to discuss various examinations and diagnostic tests with your doctor to clarify the cause of your symptoms and ensure the appropriate treatment plan.
Sometimes understanding the dermatomal distribution of the potentially affected nerves can be helpful. Nerves run through specific paths in the body and knowing this distribution can differentiate which level is affected. Do you have symptoms down the front or back of the leg? Does it go below the knee, into the big toe or to the outside of the foot? Answers to these questions can give you an understanding of what level is affected. Non-invasive diagnostic testing such as straight leg raises or invasive diagnostic testing such as a discogram can also help determine the affected level by the amount of reproduced pain.
Until you have a thorough understanding of the cause of your condition, you cannot make informed decisions regarding the appropriate treatment.
If your doctor doesn’t take the time to help you understand what is causing your symptoms or you just have questions, give us a call. At the Benenati Law Firm, our experienced injury attorneys will help you understand your medical condition and what options may work for you. If you or a loved one has suffered a personal injury as the result of an accident, contact the Benenati Law Firm in Orlando to discuss your legal rights. We handle accidents and injuries of all types and will be honored to discuss your claim.