Disc Herniation refers to a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (disks) between the vertebrae in the spine. The spinal column is made of vertebrae that are separated by cartilage discs that act as cushions. The spinal disks are like a jelly having a softer centar encased within a tougher exterior. These spinal disks absorb the shock in the spinal column and if for any reason they get damaged or degenerated, they can tear or pop up making compression on the spinal nerves.
This condition is called Disc herniation, but it can sometimes be called slipped or ruptured disc. A herniated disk can irritate nearby nerves and result in pain, numbness or weakness.
Disc herniation can happen to any part of the spine but is mostly common in the lumbar and cervical spine. Lumbar disc herniation is far more common than cervical disc herniation. Spinal Disc Herniation is more common among men than women, usually older than 30 or 40 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
- Degeneration of the spinal discs is the most common cause. With aging the spinal discs lose their flexibility and consistency resulting in weakness and tearing of the discs. This leads to nerve compression or a pinched nerve that causes pain or numbness in the arm/leg depending which nerve is pinched.
- Trauma of the spinal column due to car accidents or work related injuries
- Lifting heavy things
Many people with a herniated disc do not experience symptoms. However, others may experience pain, muscle weakness and/or numbness as a result of a 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.
- Pain in the arms or legs (depending which nerve root is compressed)
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness and tingling of the affected part
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 the visit, be sure to tell the doctor where the pain is located, what it feels like, and how long it has been going on.
There is no cure for a herniated disc, and in most cases they heal on their own. Your doctor may recommend 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.
- Epidural Steroid Injection reduces the pain symptoms and may help the patients feel more comfortable while they recover from a herniated disc. 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.
Other treatments include:
- minimally invasive procedures such as disc decompression, disc biacuplasty, hydrocision or endoscopic decompression of the disc. These therapies may eliminate the pain of the disc disease while minimizing time away from life activities or work.