Jennifer Grey to undergo back surgery

Dancing with the Stars champion Jennifer Grey will undergo back surgery this week or next to repair a ruptured disc in her back. The 50 year old Dirty Dancing star and current mirror-ball trophy winner injured her back during the Monday night season finale last week. Grey debated whether to continue to dance in the second part of the finale on Tuesday, but decided to push onward. (This is not the first time over the course of the season Grey danced through the pain.) According to People magazine: ” In between performances on Tuesday’s finale, Grey was visibly in pain. An ice pack was strategically tucked into her fringe dancing pants as she conducted post-victory interviews. ” In an Access Hollywood interview yesterday, Grey announced her decision to under surgery, but didn’t expect it to slow her down much: “It’s just gonna be like a little surgery where they take out the ruptured disc thing, and you know, it won’t be a big deal. Compared to the other surgeries I had on my neck, my doctor says it won’t be a big deal,” Jennifer continued. “I’ll be home that night.”

The spine is made up of 24 bones called vertebrae, stacked on top of each other as well as the sacrum and coccyx (which are fused vertebrae at the base of the spine). Between the vertebrae are cushions made of cartilage, called the intervertebral discs, which keep the spine flexible and act as shock absorbers. Strong fibrous tissue, called ligaments and bony protrusions of the vertebrae called facets help stabilize the spine. There is an oval shaped space that continues throughout the spine, called the spinal canal, through which the nerves pass from the brain out to the rest of the body.

The intervertebral discs consist of a thick outer layer of cartilage, the annulus, which surrounds a jelly-like center called the nucleus. A disc is called herniated when the nucleus seeps out and encroaches on the nerves coming out of the space between the vertebrae. Although a herniated or ruptured disc can occur by a single severe trauma, more commonly it occurs as discs get worn over time, causing them to become less springy, and flatter, and to develop small cracks.

The most common symptoms of lumbar disc herniation is sciatica—a sharp, often shooting pain that extends from the buttocks down the back of one leg, caused by pressure on the spinal nerve. Other symptoms include numbness and tingling, or weakness in one leg. Loss of bowel and bladder control can also occur. Patients may be treated with symptomatic therapy (pain medications, physical therapy) for a prolonged period of time. However, if symptoms are severe or unresponsive to those treatments, surgical intervention maybe appropriate. There are a variety of surgical options including removal of a small part of the disc and nearby spine (microdiscectomy- the most common surgery for the condition), replacement of the disc, fusion of the spinal bones, and newer techniques such as Intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDEE) which involves the use of heat to modify the collagen fibers of the disc and destroy the pain receptors in the area.

For more information about disc herniation, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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