The bones (vertebrae) that make up the spine are cushioned with small spongy discs. When healthy, these discs act as a shock absorber for the vertebrae and keep the spine flexible. However, if the disk is damaged, it may bulge or break. This is called a herniated disc. It can also be called a ruptured or slipped disk.
Disc herniation can occur in any part of the vertebrae. Depending on the location of a herniated disc, it can result in pain, numbness, or weakness in arms or legs.
Many people do not have any symptoms of a herniated disc. Surgery is usually not necessary to alleviate the problem.
Mostly disc herniation occurs in the lower back, but it can also affect the neck. The signs and symptoms depend on the position of the disc or whether the disc is pressing on the nerve. It commonly affects one side of the body.
- Pain in the arm or leg: If the herniated disc is in your lower back, you will usually feel pain in your thigh, buttocks, and legs. If the herniated disc is in your neck, you will feel severe pain in your shoulder and arm.
- Numbness or tingling: People having a herniated intervertebral disc often experience radiating tingling or numbness in the part which serves the affected nerves.
- Weakness: Muscles served by impaired nerves tend to weaken. It can cause you to stumble or affect your ability to pick up or hold objects.
A herniated disc is usually caused by age-related progressive wear and tear, called disc degeneration. As you age, the flexibility of your disk decreases and they become more prone to rupture or tear – with a slight twist or strain.
Most people couldn’t find out the cause of their disk herniation. Sometimes lifting heavy objects with back muscles instead of using leg and thigh muscles can lead to a herniated disc. Turning or twisting while lifting weights may also be the cause. Rarely a traumatic event such as a fall or a blow to the back is the reason.
Factors that might increase your chances of having a disc herniation include:
- Profession: People who have physically demanding jobs are more likely to have back problems. Repetitive pulling, lifting, pushing, twisting, and bending sideways can also increase the risk of developing a herniated disc.
- Weight: Being overweight exerts extra pressure on the discs in the lower back.
- Genetics. Some people inherit a tendency to develop a herniated disc.
- Smoking: Smoke. Smoking is believed to reduce the oxygen supply to the disc, causing it to collapse faster.
To avoid a herniated disc, follow these prevention tips:
- Exercise: Strengthening the core muscles can stabilize and support the spine.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight puts more pressure on the spine and intervertebral discs – which alternatively increases the chances of herniation.
- Keep a good posture: It reduces strain on the discs and spine. Keep your back aligned and straight – especially when sitting longer. Lift heavy objects correctly so that your legs (not your back) do most of the work.
- Stop smoking: Avoid using tobacco products.
During the physical examination, the doctor will examine your back for sensitivity or pain. You might be asked to lie flat and move your legs in different positions to determine the cause of the pain. If your doctor suspects a disorder or wants to diagnose any abnormalities, you may order the following or more tests
- X-ray – check tumor, infection, spinal alignment problems, or a fracture.
- MRI – can be used to confirm the location of a herniated disc.
- CT scan – create cross-sectional images of the spine and surrounding structures.
- Myelogram – may show pressure on the nerves or spinal cord.
Here are some common treatment options that can relieve the pain of a herniated disc:
- Relieve Inflammation:
For mild disc herniation, relieve the inflammation to reduce pain. For example, applying an ice pack or heating pad to the affected area can be a great approach to temporarily relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Try 10-15 minutes daily to sleep on your stomach by placing two other pillows under your waist. If the pain persists even after using these therapies, you’re required to consult a physiotherapist for a comprehensive evaluation.
- Careful Movements:
It is important to reduce the pressure on a herniated disc. Avoid sitting or standing for longer, wearing high heels, and sleeping on your stomach. When lifting heavy objects, keep your back straight and use your knees or legs. Avoid repetitive twisting or bending. Also, keep the focus on good posture while standing or sitting.
Some specific exercises and stretches can help relieve the pain caused by the disc herniation. Physiotherapists can recommend performing these exercises correctly to reduce disc and spinal pressure – related to impaired mobility. As the muscles of the spine are strengthened, the intervertebral disc pressure will be reduced, resulting in pain relief.
- Visit a Physical Therapist:
In most cases, visiting a physiotherapist will relieve the pain associated with a herniated disc and train your body to prevent future neck and back pain. It is important to ensure that when to see a doctor for your disc problem. So you can recover quickly.
- Over-The-Counter Medications:
If the pain of disc herniation is moderate, OTC (over-the-counter) medication can help reduce swelling and pain. Ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen are one of the most popular options for OTC medication. As this medication only provides temporary pain relief, you should consult your doctor before using it.
This option is limited to severe cases only, as most cases of a herniated disc can be successfully treated with conservative measures and physical therapy. Many of the options for herniated disc surgery are minimally invasive and have high success rates, but the healing process may be longer.
Disc herniation is a common spinal disorder that usually responds well to conservative treatments such as gentle exercise, careful movements, or over-the-counter pain medication. However, some symptoms of disc rupture may require a visit to your doctor to avoid serious (potentially permanent) neurological complications.
If you are interested in learning more about health and wellness, I encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our trusted practitioners at SHIN Wellness. We offer many holistic treatments such as Decompression Therapy, Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Neurofeedback, Psychology, Reiki, Nutrition, Corrective Exercises, and Massage. If you need some help figuring out what service is right for you, try our personalized consultation. Our Wellness Center and Chiropractor office in Miami Florida specializes in restoring your health!