What to Know About a Herniated Disc
Feb 17, 2020 04:05 PM EST | By Staff Reporter
A herniated or slipped disc is actually a somewhat common condition that can occur in any part of your spine. You can have a herniated disc in your neck all the way down to your lower back, and the lower back is one of the most common places for this to occur.
If you have a slipped disc, it can put pressure on the nerves and muscles found around it.
A slipped or herniated disc can occur for different reasons. One reason is because of a car accident injury, but for some people, it might be because of one relatively minor strain. There can also be a genetic predisposition that causes some people to experience herniated discs, and it can occur because of age or worsen.
A herniated disc means that there's a problem with one of the cushions that are located between your individual bones that stack and make up your spine.
The cushions are called discs, and they're between what are called vertebrae.
Spinal discs are soft with a jellylike center and they're encased in something called an annulus, which is a rubbery exterior.
Sometimes a herniated disc can occur when some of the nucleus of the disk pushes its way out through a tear in the annulus.
The following are some of the things to know about this condition, including symptoms and what can be done to treat it.
What Causes a Herniated Disc?
Some of the reasons for a herniated disc have already been touched on above. It can be injury-related, but it can also occur because of gradual wear and tear. When the herniated disc is the result of gradual aging effects, it's called disc degeneration.
As we age, our discs become less flexible and, therefore, more likely to rupture or tear.
If you didn't experience a traumatic event that led to your herniated disc, you might not be able to pinpoint exactly what the cause was.
Some of the risk factors for developing a herniated disc include:
- Carrying extra weight which can put more stress and strain on the discs in your back
- Your job can play a role because if you work in a physical role, you're at a greater risk of experiencing back problems
- Some people are genetically predisposed to the development of a herniated disc
- Smoking may contribute because it reduces the oxygen supply that reaches the disc and then the disc breaks down more quickly
To prevent a herniated disc, even if you have some of the above risk factors, you can quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight. Regularly exercising can help strengthen your core muscles that support and stabilize the spine.
Working on maintaining good posture can help reduce pressure on the spine. When you're sitting, keep your back well-aligned, and when you lift, do so from your legs and not your back.
If you have a sedentary job, try to get up regularly and stretch and move around.
What Are the Symptoms of a Slipped Disc?
People often experience symptoms very differently from one another when they have a slipped disc. What may be incredibly painful for one person may not be noticeable for another.
The position of the herniated disc can play a big role in the symptoms you experience.
For example, if your herniated disc doesn't put pressure on a nerve, you might not have pain. If it does press on a nerve you might experience not only pain but weakness and numbness in certain areas.
Lumbar spine or lower back pain is one of the most frequently experienced symptoms when the herniated disc is in the lower back.
Pressure on one or more nerves that lead to the sciatic nerve can cause symptoms like burning, tingling, pain, and numbness that moves from the buttocks to the leg. Some people might experience pain in their foot as well and it's usually one-sided pain.
If your nerve compression is in your neck, which is known as your cervical spine, you might feel pain not only in the neck but also between the shoulder blades.
The pain might radiate through the arm and hand, and you could experience numbness or tingling.
Complications of a slipped disc can include:
- Worsening symptoms including pain, weakness or numbness that interfere with daily life and functionality
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
- Saddle anesthesia which is a condition where you have a progressive loss of sensation in the parts of your body that would touch a saddle like your inner thighs and the back of your legs
The treatment for a herniated disc depends a lot on different factors, including where you experience the pain and how much it's affecting your life. If you take time and rest while limiting your activities you may find that the herniated disc gets better on its own.
If not, most doctors will try other conservative measures to reduce the inflammation of the spinal nerve. For example, your doctor might recommend the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines.
Another option is an epidural steroid injection, or you could participate in physical therapy.
Physical therapy can include strategies like pelvic traction, ice, and heat therapy, and stretching.
It's only once other options like medicine and physical therapy don't work that a doctor might consider surgery.
Surgery can come with risks, and there's no guarantee it will reduce someone's pain so it's important to go over all the details with your doctor.
Two of the most commonly used types of surgery for a slipped disc are lumbar spine surgery and cervical spine surgery.
If you have back pain, the best thing you can do is talk with your doctor about it. A doctor can do in-depth testing such as performing X-rays and MRIs to see where the issue is, and from there they can help you decide on a treatment path.
You don't have to keep living with back pain, and there are options available to you.