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Spine Surgery Guide

What is Herniated Disc?
Herniated discs are extremely common back injuries. Herniated disc disease is due to a change in the structure of the normal disc. Most of the time, disc disease comes as a result of aging and the degeneration that occurs within the disc. Occasionally, severe trauma can cause a normal disc to herniate.

Trauma may also cause an already herniated disc to worsen. They occur when the thick outer layer (annulus fibrosus) of an intervertebral spinal disc bulges or ruptures. Sometimes, the gel-like interior of the disc (nucleus pulposus) will actually break through the outer layer and leak out into the body. This is called a ruptured or extruded disc.
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How does a disk become herniated?
As you grow older, your disks become flatter -- less cushiony. If a disk becomes too weak, the outer part may tear. The inside part of the disk pushes through the tear and presses on the nerves beside it.

The drawing to the right shows how a disk looks when it gets pushed through the tear and presses on a nerve. Herniated disks are most common in people in their 30s and 40s
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What are the signs of a herniated disk?

When part of a disk presses on a nerve, it can cause pain in the back and the legs. The location of the pain depends on which disk is weak. How bad the pain is depends on how much of the disk is pressing on the nerve.

In most people with herniated disks, the pain spreads over the buttocks and goes down the back of one thigh and into the calf. This is known as sciatica because the pain travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. Some people have pain in both legs. In some people, the legs or feet feel numb or tingly

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Intervertebral canine herniated disc is usually suspected based on the signalmen (breed, age, sex), history of appropriate clinical dysfunction, and a neurologic localization of the cervical or thoracolumbar areas.

Humans walk upright with most jarring forces being transferred straight up the spinal column from the legs. Consequently the lumbar intervertebral disks are at highest risk of injury and possible herniation in humans.

In comparison, dogs walk on all four limbs with jarring forces normally applied at a right angle to the spinal column. As a result, the most common site of disk herniation in the back of dogs is this thoracolumbar junction where the spinal cord is present and is secondarily compressed by herniated disk material. Thus, the clinical presentation of thoracolumbar disk herniation in dogs can be far worse than just shooting pains down the legs. It is common for dogs to show profound paralysis of their hind limbs from the resulting spinal cord damage.
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This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient.
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