What is a herniated disc? If you’ve ever experienced one, you know nothing quite like the pain and discomfort it can cause. With lower back pain being the leading cause of disability in the United States, serious physical, emotional, and economic repercussions can play. Of all the lower back pain causes, herniated discs are the most common but can also be misdiagnosed. Being able to recognize this issue will lead to proper and effective treatment. So, what exactly is a herniated disc?
Understanding Herniated Discs and Their Causes
The human spine is exactly 33 vertebrae long and is broken up into five different sections:
- Cervical: The cervical spine comprises seven vertebrae and is located at the top, in the neck.
- Thoracic: The thoracic area that spans from the upper to mid-back and consists of 12 vertebrae.
- Lumbar: The lumbar area covers the lower back and includes five vertebrae.
- Sacral: The sacral area follows below and is made up of five vertebrae.
- Coccygeal: The spine’s bottom is called the coccygeal area, which contains four small bones at the very end of your spine, otherwise known as your tailbone.
In all five regions of the spine, intervertebral discs are made up of two different layers. The inner layer consists of a soft, jelly-like material that absorbs shock and movement, while the outer layer is harder and works as a shell. These discs help the spine move smoothly while absorbing movement and acting as a cushion in between the vertebrae.
While herniated discs can occur anywhere in the spine for many reasons, including injury and degenerative disc disease, symptoms most commonly occur in the lumbar section of the spine between the L4 and L5 vertebrae. Herniated discs can also be a risk for those who are obese or have poor posture.
12 Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
As painful as a herniated disc can be, some people often have them without experiencing symptoms. It’s not unheard of for patients to visit their doctor seeking treatment for a condition only to discover that the cause is actually a herniated disc. In most cases, herniated discs do cause various symptoms, and some of them may surprise you.
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of bowel control
- Neck stiffness
- Sciatic pain
- Hand numbness
- Muscle Spams
- Pins and needles
- Overactive reflexes
A strong determinate of herniated discs is that they present symptoms, most commonly pain, and it does not relent. Herniated disc symptoms typically worsen over a span of time.
Preventing and Treating Herniated Discs
Just like most anything in life, the best treatment for herniated discs is to prevent them altogether. The risk of herniated discs increases with age, and to prevent them as we grow older, it is recommended to maintain a healthy weight with an active life that includes plenty of exercise. It’s also essential to incorporate a healthy diet that promotes bone strength.
Of course, these are habits we should all be practicing every day to live the healthiest life possible. If you do face a herniated disc diagnosis, several treatment options vary in how invasive they can be. It all depends on what treatments are most effective for you personally.
- Physical therapy: This noninvasive treatment can improve core strength, posture and help you stay healthy. Specific exercises will be recommended to alleviate your spine’s pressure to reduce pain in the herniated disc.
- Vertebroplasty & Kyphoplasty: In a vertebroplasty procedure, bone cement is injected into your vertebrae that have fractured or broken. A balloon is first inserted into your fractured bone in a kyphoplasty procedure to create a cavity or space. Then the bone cement is injected into the cavity when the balloon is removed.
- Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA): a minimally invasive procedure that uses radiofrequency energy — an electric current produced by radio waves — to heat small nerve tissue areas to prevent transmission of pain signals from that area.
- Epidural Steroid Injections: These injections are a much stronger and more effective way to manage the pain of a herniated disc and are given in the form of an injection. They do not cure the disc but can help manage pain during the rehabilitation process.
- Surgery: If pain and symptoms persist and do not improve, surgery is recommended to remove or repair the material that irritates the spinal nerves. While this is an incredibly invasive process, it may be the only remaining option for some patients.
Know the symptoms, trust your body, and consult with one of our physicians if you suspect you may have a herniated disc. Identifying the problem is the first step to finding a solution, and with so many options available for treatment, herniated disc pain does not have to a staple in your life. Pain Management & Injury Relief Medical Center is located in Thousand Oaks, CA, and serves all surrounding areas. Call today to schedule your consultation.