The human spine is a complex structure essential for supporting the body and protecting the spinal cord. The spine is a series of 33 vertebrae separated by intervertebral discs. These discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, allowing for movement and flexibility.
A herniated disc occurs when the soft, gel-like center of a spinal disc pushes through an outer layer tear and puts pressure on nearby nerves in the spinal column. Living with a herniated disc is not just inconvenient; it can be quite painful, restricts your mobility, and limits your daily activities considerably.
Causes of a Herniated Disc
A herniated disc can be caused by sudden trauma, such as falling or an automobile accident. Other common causes for a herniated disc include:
- Aging. As we age, the discs in our spine can become less flexible and more prone to damage.
- Repetitive motions and stress. Repetitive activities involving bending, twisting, or lifting and carrying heavy objects can cause increased stress on spinal discs.
- Genetics. The genetic makeup of your discs may make them more prone to experiencing a herniation.
- Obesity. Excess weight adds additional pressure on spinal structures, increases daily wear and tear, and raises your chance of developing a herniated disc.
- Smoking. Smoking can contribute to disc degeneration.
What Does a Herniated Disc Feel Like?
A disc herniation can cause a range of symptoms depending on the location of the herniation and its severity. Some common symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Pain. Pain is the most common symptom of a herniated disc and may vary from person to person. The pain may be sharp, burning, shooting, or even excruciating and may worsen with movement or sitting for long periods. The intensity of discomfort can range from mild to severe, and it may be felt in the back, legs, or arms, depending on the location of the herniation.
- Numbness or a tingling sensation. Herniation can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spinal column, causing them to become compressed. The result may be a tingling sensation, a feeling of pins and needles, or a loss of sensation or numbness in affected limbs and core muscles.
- Weakness. If you find moving difficult or painful, a herniated disc may be the cause. In severe cases, a herniated disc can cause muscle weakness in the affected area due to pressure on the nerves that control muscle movement.
- Bowel or bladder changes. Bowel and bladder changes aren’t just unpleasant, they can be a sign that a herniated disc is pushing against your nerve endings. In rare cases, disc herniation can put pressure on the nerves that control bowel and bladder functions. Symptoms of bowel or bladder changes may include difficulty urinating, loss of bowel control, or incontinence.
When these symptoms arise, taking immediate action is essential to prevent further complications.
Treatment for a herniated disc will depend on the severity of the herniation and the symptoms it is causing. Common treatment options include:
- Medications such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and pain relievers
- Resting the affected area and avoiding activities that worsen symptoms
- Physical therapy to learn exercises and stretches to alleviate pain and improve range of motion
- Steroid injections may help minimize inflammation and relieve related pain
Should a herniated disc become too severe, invasive measures like surgery may be required to address the problem. Before recommending surgery, doctors often turn to conservative or less intrusive treatment methods.
What to Do If You Suspect a Herniated Disc
If you are experiencing any symptoms associated with a herniated disc, you should see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and assessment of your situation. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and may order imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI to confirm the herniation.
Early intervention is vital in avoiding further damage and achieving the best possible outcome. Don’t wait if you suspect a herniated disc. Schedule an appointment today!