What You Should Know About Herniated Discs

by | Dec 26, 2022 | back pain doctor denver

Back pain is a common affliction, causing many people discomfort and pain. From mild, frustrating symptoms to pain that disrupts even the simplest tasks, back pain manifests itself in a number of ways and can be traced to a variety of root causes. Among these catalysts of back pain are herniated discs.

The spine is composed of discs and vertebrae arranged in a stack. In their most basic forms, the vertebrae are bones, and the discs are cushions between them that contribute to mobility, protection, and so on. When they work in harmony, the combination allows for healthy, pain-free movement. Sometimes, though, discs will herniate.

Here, we will discuss what herniated discs are, what causes herniated discs, and everything else you should know about them.

What is a Herniated Disc?

The discs in your back are composed of two distinct areas. The inner area, called the nucleus, is soft and almost jellylike. The exterior that encases it, called the annulus, is tough like rubber. When the annulus tears, the nucleus can push through the damaged spot. When this occurs, a disc is said to be herniated. Other terms for this condition are slipped disc and ruptured disc.

What Causes a Disc to Herniate?

There is not a singular cause of disc herniation. Rather, there are a few possible root causes that can lead to herniated discs. The first is the gradual wear and tear that happens with age. When a disc herniation occurs as a result of these factors, it is often referred to as disc degeneration.

Another common origin of herniated discs is improper technique when lifting heaving objects. Over-stressing the back muscles or twisting while lifting can cause discs to herniate. This is the most likely cause of herniated discs outside of age.

Finally, trauma can cause herniated discs. This is the least common source of herniation, but it is a possibility, especially if the back is the focus of an impact.

What are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

Because herniated discs can occur at any point along the spine, including in the neck, symptoms can vary dramatically. Some herniated discs have no symptoms at all, making people entirely unaware of their injury unless it is found by a doctor.

Pain is a common symptom. It will likely be concentrated at and around the injury site—the lower back, for example—but can extend to other areas of the body. If you have a herniated disc in your lower back, pain may radiate into your legs or feet. If you have injured your neck, you may have arm and shoulder pain.

Numbness and weakness are also common symptoms of disc herniation. This is because the nerves in the affected area influence the related nerves and muscles. 

Preventing Disc Herniation

No matter what your risk factors may be, you can work to reduce the possibility of disc herniation. Strive to maintain a weight that is healthy for your frame, thereby reducing the pressure and stress placed on your spine. You can also exercise and stretch to strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine. These muscles are responsible for stabilization. If they are strong, you are less likely to experience a back injury that would lead to a herniated disc. Finally, practice good posture. Perform daily activities with proper alignment and form, especially if you are lifting heavy objects.

Herniated Disc Treatments

Depending on the severity of your herniated disc and your individual health factors, your doctor may recommend treatments that range from medication to surgery. Medication is commonly used to reduce pain and inflammation or control muscle spasms. For more serious cases, cortisone injections might be used to relieve inflammation in the area directly. Physical therapy can also be used to minimize pain, regain mobility, and strengthen relevant areas of the back. 

In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to alleviate pain and regain proper function. If, for example, your herniated disc is preventing you from walking, surgery may be the only option left. There are a number of potential surgeries that can be used depending on the scenario, so an involved conversation with your doctor is in order to evaluate your options and reach a conclusion that works for you.

Herniated discs are a serious concern, especially if you are experiencing back pain. While they often resolve themselves with minor medical intervention and pain control, they are legitimate medical issues that should be examined by a professional. If you suspect you have a herniated disc or want to learn more about prevention, do not hesitate to reach out to your back doctor.


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