If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a herniated disc, you know what it is and how it feels. But because it’s relatively rare, only affecting between .005-.02% of adults per year, most people don’t know what it is. Let’s break it down visually. Your spine consists of a spinal column made up of 33 vertebrae. In between these vertebrae are spongy discs that act like your car’s suspension for these vertebrae. When the tough lining called the annulus tears, the spongy nucleus slips through the tear and is exposed to the spinal canal.
This condition is called a herniated disc (also known as a slipped, ruptured, bulging or prolapsed disc) and depending on the location of the herniation, can cause severe pain and physical disability.
The most frequently affected area is the lower back where most of your body weight is supported but any disc can rupture and become herniated, including those in the neck.
What Causes A Herniated Disc?
The most common cause of disc herniation occurs as a result of age and the gradual wear and tear that happens along with it. Not only that, as you age, your discs become less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing with even a minor strain or twist. Age isn’t always the main cause, though. Here are a few other common causes of disc herniation.
Lack Of Exercise
Exercise will help strengthen your back and provide additional cushion to your discs. That’s why exercise is one of the most important things you can do to prevent back pain and conditions.
People with physically demanding jobs have a higher risk of disc herniation due to the amount of pressure you place on your spine on a daily basis.
Some people genetically are more at risk than others, especially when it comes to your lower back. Research shows that those with a family history of lumbar disc herniation are at higher risk than those without.
Individuals with excess weight are at increased risk for disc herniation because their discs, especially those in the lower back, have to support the additional weight.
This is a big cause of herniated discs due to the amount of stress it puts on your discs. Nicotine by itself reduces the number of nutrients that your discs receive, and when combined with smoking, causes even worse effects due to the carbon monoxide that is inhaled. The more time you spend using nicotine, the more risk there is of a herniated disc.
Herniated Disc Symptoms
Herniated discs typically become symptomatic when they brush up against nerves, because of the compression and irritation it causes those nerves. In some cases, though, there might not be any symptoms. Here are some of the most common symptoms of a herniated disc.
You might not notice it at first, but most of the time, patients will feel an unnerving sensation of numbness or tingling in the affected region.
Weakness/Partial Loss of Motor Control
When a herniated disc compresses nerves, it can cause muscle weakness and affect your ability to hold or lift objects or even cause you to stumble and fall. If this happens, you need to see a doctor immediately.
The pain usually occurs in a radiating fashion near the affected area. If the herniated disc is in the lower back, the pain often affects the buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet. This is often referred to as sciatica because the pain travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. If it’s in your neck, you’ll typically feel this pain in your shoulders and arms.
What Are My Treatment Options?
Patients are advised to begin conservative and non-surgical treatment before considering surgery on any disc herniation. In some scenarios, early surgery can be beneficial for more serious disc herniations, but a lot of times, rest and non-surgical treatment options can heal your disc herniation. Here are some treatment options that most spine specialists will give you.
Physical therapy helps to improve your core strength, flexibility, and endurance, which will help relieve the pressure on the nerves and reduce symptoms.
These injections are referred to as epidurals or nerve blocks; they are injected directly into the area of the herniation to help reduce inflammation and pain, allowing for increased mobility and better healing.
In some more serious cases, muscle relaxants are prescribed along with another treatment option to reduce muscle spasms and pain.
As a last resort, spine surgery will completely fix the tear and reduce all symptoms, but like all surgeries, it has risks. Some of the most common surgical options available include a laminectomy and microdiscectomy.
How To Prevent A Herniated Disc
If you’re someone with a family history of back problems or herniated discs, you probably want to know how to avoid these problems. Here are a few tips on preventing a herniated disc.
Maintain a healthy weight and gently exercise your back muscles whenever possible. If you lift, make sure not to strain your back muscles and to use proper form to avoid injury.
Eat foods containing antioxidants as much as possible like berries, garlic, salmon and avocados. The antioxidants in these foods help reduce inflammation and stress on your back.
Stretch Every Once In A While
If your job requires long periods of sitting, make sure to stretch out your muscles whenever possible and try to maintain a correct posture.
No More Nicotine
Quit smoking or chewing tobacco. This is important not only for your back and spine health but for your overall health. Nicotine causes rapid deterioration of systems all over your body and can cause serious health issues over a lifetime.
Contact A Spine Specialist
While this article breaks down what a disc herniation is and how to treat it, each patient is different. The treatment of each patient should be carried out depending on the pain, severity, and causes of certain symptoms in the patient.
Most people have no symptoms of a herniated disc and surgery is rarely required to fix a herniated disc. If you believe you have a herniated disc, visit a spine specialist as soon as possible to get the necessary diagnosis and treatment.
Here at SpineMD “Dr Anil Kesani“, our mission is to provide you with personalized, high-quality care. We are dedicated to improving and maintaining your spine health through accurate diagnosis and multiple treatment options including nonsurgical and advanced surgical treatments.
Our location is in North Richland Hills, but our spine specialists serve everyone in the Fort Worth and DFW area. Call us today at (817) 893-6001 or make an appointment online! We look forward to seeing you!