Spinal or intervertebral discs are pillow-like cushions that separate the bones that make up your spine. They are made up of a tougher outer layer (annulus), which surrounds a softer, gel-like substance (nucleus pulposus). When the outer fibers become damaged, the inner layer can start to leak out. This is referred to as a herniated disc. A herniated disc can occur in the lumbar spine (lower back) or cervical spine (neck), though it is most common in the lower back.
Many people with a herniated disc do not experience symptoms. However, others may experience pain, muscle weakness and/or numbness as a result of the herniated disc putting pressure on the spine or affecting nearby nerves. If the herniated disc is in your lumbar spine, your pain will likely be centered on your buttocks and leg. If it is in your neck, your symptoms will be most intense around your shoulder and arm. Symptoms may worsen when coughing or sneezing.
Herniated discs are common, especially in people between 35 and 55 years old. The following groups have a higher risk of developing a herniated disc:
- People with jobs that involve heavy lifting or repetitive bending
- People who are overweight (extra weight puts extra stress on the discs)
- People with pre-existing back injuries
Diagnosing a Herniated Disc
A physical exam and a review of your medical history may be sufficient for your doctor to make a diagnosis, though in some cases he or she may also order diagnostic tests. During your visit, be sure to tell the doctor where your pain is located, what it feels like, and how long it has been going on.
Herniated Disc Treatment
There is no cure for a herniated disc, and in most cases they heal on their own. Your doctor may recommend getting rest and reducing physical activity for some time to give the disc time to heal. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be taken during this time to help reduce inflammation around the joints and improve pain symptoms. Physical therapy may also be prescribed. In the event that conservative therapy does not alleviate symptoms, other options are available.
An epidural steroid injection may may help you feel more comfortable while you recover from a herniated disc, by reducing pain symptoms. Epidural injections are delivered directly at the source of your pain. Some patients feel improvement within minutes of getting an epidural injection, while others may start to feel better after a few days.
In other cases, mimimally invasive procedures such as disc decompression, disc biacuplasty, hydrocision or endoscopic decompression of the disc may be offered as a therapeutic modality.These therapies may eliminate the pain of the disc disease while minimizing time away from life activities or work.
If you think you might be suffering from a bulging, ruptured or herniated disc, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. To make an appointment with one of our triple board-certified spine and pain experts, call (859) 282-2024 today.