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Did My Disc Explode?

Updated: May 5, 2022

“I threw my back out” “I ruptured a disc” “I pinched a nerve”

I hear phrases like this all of the time. If you know me (or read my previous post on how to move better) then you know that I think we do a terrible job of messaging when it comes to back pain.

Up to 80% of people have back pain at some point in their lives and 1 in 5 have it every year.

These are huge numbers. If every person who had back pain “ruptured a disc” then we would not be able to function as a society. The first step in this conversation is acknowledging that you probably did not herniate a disc in your low back when you hurt yourself.

The next step is to realize that, even if imaging shows a herniated disc, then that is not necessarily your problem. This can be hard to grasp, as we are wired to equate an MRI with the absolute truth, but our bodies are more complicated than that. A study by Brinjikji, et al. found that disc bulges occur in 30% of people in their 20s who have no pain. That percentage increases to 84% of people in their 80s, once again with no pain. Also, disc degeneration, which is a term for any sort of wear and tear on the disc itself, was present in 37% of people in their 20s and 96% of people in their 80s with no pain. (1)

These numbers are staggering. If you are in your 20s and have no current back pain, but you went and got an MRI of your spine anyway, there is a 1 in 3 chance that you would have a disc bulge and/or degeneration. Imagine a physician giving you that news. It would be impossible not to become fixated on your back after receiving this information.