Similar to a bulging disc, and also known as a slipped disc, this is a condition in which the softer material of a vertebral disc seeps out and obstructs the spinal canal.
What is a Herniated Disc?
- Between your spinal vertebrae is a disc of tissue filled with soft material. Aging and injuries may degenerate and weaken discs, sometimes causing tearing and allowing the soft material to seep out. The inner-disc material can squeeze a nerve root, causing intense radiating pain.
- Severity of pain and disability widely varies. A herniated disc may go a while without detection, only producing symptoms if the herniation progresses.
- Herniated discs most commonly happen to people between the ages of 20 to 50 years old, and most often pain and other symptoms go away within a couple weeks. Initial treatment mainly focuses on pain relief.
- If herniation reoccurs, or severe nerve damage is a possibility, only then will spinal fusion surgery may be recommended.
What causes it?
Herniated discs can happen abruptly or progress over a period of time. Injuries like car accident whiplash or a mild to severe fall may weaken and tear a disc. Improper lifting, suddenly back twists, or constant exhaustive motions may also rupture discs. Lastly, smoking and obesity puts you at risk for herniation.
Once a disc is herniated, it may cause extreme or mild pain, sciatica, or pins and needle sensation down one or both of your legs. Depending on the severity of the herniation, pain may come quickly and last for a short while, or progressively worsen to extremes. Or, symptoms may be undetected and the disc may heal over a few weeks.
Most herniated discs happen in the lumbar region, or the lower back. The lower back is susceptible to herniated discs because of the strain put on the area by daily activities. These herniated discs can easily pinch the area's nerve root, causing uncomfortable shooting pain down the length of the lower back and legs.
Herniated discs can also occur in the cervical region, or neck area. Sudden neck movements or strain may cause herniation. Pain may be localized or radiate down the length of the back. The disc material can also pinch a nerve root that may cause numbness in the arms, hands, or fingers.
How do you treat it?
Treating a herniated disc depends on the spinal area the herniation occurs, the severity of pain, activity level, and age. Conservative methods are almost always tried before surgery. Most herniated discs heal with a combination of rest, cold and hot compresses, pain and anti-inflammatory medications, and stretching exercises.
Oral or injected steroidal medication may be prescribed for pain that is very uncomfortable. Surgery may only be recommended if these methods do not significantly relieve pain or heal the herniation. Surgery is also recommended if nerve damage may occur, or symptoms quickly worsen.
Discectomy surgery relieves pressure on nerve roots. If you would like more information, and you feel you may be a candidate for spinal surgery, please send us your MRI scan here and we will review it for free.