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The Difference Between Cervical and Lumbar Discs

Neck and back pain are common complaints. Sometimes, the pain is caused by a muscle strain that subsides after a few days of rest. Other times, however, neck and back pain lingers on for weeks, hinting at a larger problem. Herniated discs are a common source of both neck and back pain, affecting up to 20 out of every 1000 adults.

Dr. John Regan and our team at Spine Group Beverly Hills excel at diagnosing and treating herniated discs. In this article, we explore the anatomy of your spine, your cervical and lumbar discs, and how herniated discs are treated.

Understanding the anatomy of your spine

The vertebrae in your spine consist of 33 bones that lock together to form your spinal column. Each vertebra is numbered and categorized according to its position in your spine. From the top-down, the regions are cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum, and coccyx. 

Regardless of where the vertebrae are located, there is an intervertebral disc between each vertebra. This cushiony disc sits in between each vertebra and prevents the bones from rubbing each other. The intervertebral disc is made of the annulus (an outer ring) and a nucleus. The nucleus is gel-filled, and if you ever hear of a herniated disc, it’s this gel that protrudes out of the disc causing pain.

So what are the cervical and lumbar discs? A cervical disc is an intervertebral disc in your cervical spine (neck) and the lumbar disc is the intervertebral disc in your lumbar region (lower back).

Cervical discs

There are seven vertebrae in your neck, and they are called C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, and C7. Your cervical discs are located between each vertebra, and they support the bones in your neck. Your cervical discs serve as shock absorbers. In other words, the discs in your neck help your cervical spine (C1 through C7) handle various loads and play a pivotal role in the mobility and flexibility of your neck.

Lumbar discs

There are six vertebrae in your lumbar region, named L1, L2, L3, L4, and L5. These vertebrae are larger than your cervical bones because they must support your upper body weight. They also allow for flexibility in your lower back, enabling you to bend and twist. Like the cervical vertebrae, you also have discs between these bones. They are named according to their position. For example, the disc between L1 and L2 is called the L1-L2 disc. 

Because your lower back is subject to such a high degree of stress, there’s more of a risk of developing lower back pain. Herniated discs, for example, are a common problem that affects your lumbar discs. 

Disc pain

Intervertebral discs 一 whether they are in your cervical spine or lumbar spine 一 are subject to herniation. A disc becomes herniated when the gel-like inner portion (the nucleus) of the disc herniates or ruptures. The soft center pushes through the outer layer and can press on nerves, which causes pain and discomfort. You might also experience numbness or tingling.

The good news is that herniated discs can be treated. Dr. Regan offers both conservative and surgical treatments, depending on the severity of your disc pain. Treatments may include:

If you’re ready to say goodbye to the pain of a herniated disc, call our Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, California office today to explore your treatment options.

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