Herniated Disc – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatments

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Overview

A herniated disc is a part of the disc nucleus pushed out of the annulus into the spinal canal by a tear in the annulus. Around 60% to 80% of people in the US may have low back pain at some point in their lives. Here in this blog, we will discuss the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options for herniated discs.

Summary

  • Discs cushion the bones (vertebrae) that form the back’s spine. It is located between each vertebra in the spinal column discs and works as shock absorbers for the spinal bones.
  • Some of the most common signs and symptoms for herniated discs may include lower back pain, muscle weakness, sciatica, slow reflexes, and loss of bladder or bowel control.
  • Mainly, a herniated disc occurs due to aging or the normal breakdown that appears within the disk.
  • Factors increasing herniated disk risk include overweight, repetitive lifting, genetics, smoking, and gender.
  • Your doctor will recommend imaging tests, including X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, myelograms, and discograms.
  • At the initial level, a herniated is usually treated by traditional and nonsurgical treatment options like physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
  • If conventional treatments fail to relieve your pain, your doctor will suggest surgery.

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Herniated Disc

Discs cushion the bones (vertebrae) that form the spine in the back. It is situated between each vertebra in the spinal column discs. These discs are round, like small pillows, with a firm outer layer known as an annulus surrounding the nucleus. They act as shock absorbers for the spinal bones.
A herniated disc is a part of the disc nucleus pushed out of the annulus into the spinal canal by a tear or rupture in the annulus. Mostly, discs become herniated in an early stage of degeneration.
You may have a herniated disc anywhere along the spine, but it usually appears in the lower back. Most often, it is called a bulging, ruptured disk, or protruding. It is considered one of the most common reasons for leg pain, lower back pain, or sciatica.
Approximately 60% to 80% of people in the US may have low back pain at some point in their lives. The majority of them may experience leg pain or low back pain due to herniated disc. Although it can be excruciating for the patients, most feel much better within a few weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment.

What Are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

You may experience a herniated disc in any of your spine’s parts, most commonly in the lower back. The spine contains a complex network of blood vessels and nerves. A herniated disc puts excessive pressure on the nerves and blood vessels surrounding it. Some of the most common symptoms of a herniated disc may include:

  • Muscle weakness.
  • Pain extending to your legs or arms.
  • Pain that gets worse with specific movements.
  • Tingling, burning, or aching feelings in the affected area.
  • Sciatica.
  • Weakness in the leg or foot
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control.
  • Slow reflexes

The pain type that patients experience may differ from person to person. You need to immediately consult your healthcare provider if your pain results in numbness or tingling, affecting your ability to control your muscles.

Causes of Herniated Disc

Mainly, a herniated disc occurs due to aging or the normal breakdown that appears within the disk. In young people, disks contain high water content, which decreases with age; thus, discs become less flexible. The disks start to contract, and the spaces between the vertebrae get narrower. Hence, this natural aging process makes the disks more likely to herniation. Severe injury or a traumatic event can cause spinal disk herniation or may worsen an already herniated disk. Research has revealed that a predisposition for herniated discs may also exist in families.

Risk Factors

Certain factors that can contribute to increasing your risk of a herniated disk may include:

  • Weight

Overweight puts extra strain on the disks in your lower back.

  • Occupation.

People doing jobs with physical demands are more likely to have back problems. Repetitive lifting, twisting, pushing, pulling, and bending sideways also can increase your risk of a herniated disk.

  • Genetics

Several people inherit a predisposition to have a herniated disk.

  • Smoking

Smoking increases the risk of disk herniation as it decreases the oxygen supply to the disk.

  • Gender

Men are more prone to have a herniated disk than women.

 

Herniated Disks Diagnosis

At first, your doctor will perform a physical examination and will do a “straight leg raise test.” You are required to lift one leg straight up; this movement will increase the compression and cause pain in your legs if you have a herniated disk. Your healthcare provider will identify the source of your pain by checking your nerve function and muscle strength. He will ask about your medical history, numbness, symptoms, weakness, and slow reflexes.
Your doctor will recommend some imaging tests that help him to view your spine’s bones and muscles. Some of the imaging scans may include:

  • X-rays.
  • CT scans.
  • Electromyogram (EMG).
  • MRI scans.
  • Myelogram.
  • Discograms.

 

These imaging tests will help your healthcare provider identify the exact source of your pain, weakness, or discomfort.

Treatment Options for a Herniated Disk
Several treatments for treating a herniated disk may include:

Non Surgical Treatments

At the initial level, a herniated is usually treated by traditional and nonsurgical treatment options. The doctor will suggest avoiding painful activities for a few days to several weeks, depending upon the patient’s condition. It will help decrease spinal nerve inflammation. Bedrest is generally not an option and is not recommended.
For mild to moderate agony, a herniated disk is generally treated using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Your doctor may utilize steroid injection to provide you relief from pain.
Physical therapy is considered one of the best options to treat a herniated disk. After an in-depth evaluation, your therapist will suggest the best treatment for your condition. Therapy may involve electrical muscle stimulation, pelvic traction, ice and heat therapy, gentle massage, ultrasound, and stretching exercises. Several medications such as muscle relaxants may also be useful along with physical therapy.

  • Surgery

If traditional treatments fail to provide you relief, your medical team will suggest surgery. Your doctor will discuss all the possible aspects with the patient, such as several factors, including age and overall health, are considered for surgery. Although many patients with herniated discs come with significant pain relief after surgery, there is no guarantee that surgery will be useful.

If you have a herniated disc, it is time to see a board-certified and professional specialist. Please don’t stay in pain; liberate yourself from it. 

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