What is a Herniated Disc?
Vertebral discs are small, rubbery pads located between the vertebrae (bones) of the spinal column. They are composed of a soft, jelly-like center called a nucleus and a tough, outer ring of cartilage known as the annulus. Discs allow the spine to move and twist freely and act as a shock absorber to diffuse impact away from the vertebrae. Herniated discs—which can also be called slipped discs, ruptured discs, bulging discs, or disc protrusions—occur when a defect or tear develops in the annulus, allowing some of the jelly-like nucleus to bulge out or herniate. This protrusion of the nucleus can put pressure on nearby nerves and result in pain, numbness or weakness in the extremities.
What causes a Herniated Disc?
The most common cause of a herniated disc is disc degeneration, the gradual wear-and-tear on the spinal column that comes with aging. Vertebral discs are composed of up to 80%, but aging can cause discs to lose some of this natural water content, making them less pliable and more susceptible to damage. This weakening of the discs can cause a herniation in and of itself, or it can be exacerbated by activities like heavy lifting with poor form, repetitive twisting movements, or carrying excessive body weight. There are also genetic and lifestyle factors, like occupation, that make some people more susceptible to herniated discs.
Herniated Disc Symptoms
The most common symptoms of a herniated disc are pain, numbness and tingling in the arms or legs. While most herniated discs occur in the lumbar spine (lower back) and therefore affect the legs and buttocks, it is also possible to have a herniated disc in the cervical spine (neck), which will send pain, numbness and tingling down the arms. Weakness is also a common symptom of a herniated disc, as the nerves being pressured by the bulging nucleus will weaken over time. While most people with herniated discs experience these symptoms, it is entirely possible to have a herniated disc that generates no or very minimal symptoms.
Herniated Disc Prevention
There are three keys to preventing a herniated disc. First, adopting an exercise regimen that includes core strengthening can help stabilize and support the spine, preventing even a weakened disc from bulging. Second, ensuring you keep your back straight, especially when sitting for extended periods of time, can help reduce pressure points in the vertebral column. It is also critically important to maintain good form or posture when lifting heavy objects, focusing on using your legs—not your back—for most of the work. Finally, maintaining a healthy weight will help eliminate unnecessary strain and pressure from weakening your spine and making your discs susceptible to bulging or herniation.
Herniated Disc Diagnosis
If you suspect your pain may be caused by a herniated disc, the first step towards a diagnosis is scheduling an appointment with a physician whose practice is focused on treating disorders of the spine. At the time of your appointment, they will complete a full review of your individual and family medical history; conduct a thorough physical examination, including palpation and movement, strength, and reflex tests; and order and review any necessary diagnostic tests, such as X-Ray, MRI or CT scans. The results of these examinations and diagnostic tests will help your physician pinpoint the cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan aimed at eradicating it.
Why Choose Pain Consultants?
If you are experiencing the signs and symptoms of a herniated disc, Pain Consultants of West Florida can help alleviate your pain and get your life back on track. We offer a wide variety of treatment options for herniated discs, including:
- Physical therapy – a combination of stretching, strengthening and cardiovascular exercises aimed at strengthening the core to stabilize the spine, which can help relieve pain and pressure on the spinal column and allow natural healing to occur.
- TENS units – stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and uses low-dose electrical currents, delivered through pads (electrodes) placed directly on the skin above the site of injury, to stimulate nerves and eliminate the sensation of pain.
- Lumbar bracing – provides additional stability and support to the spine to prevent future injury and allow the natural process of healing to occur. Typically used in conjunction with physical therapy, as over-reliance on bracing alone can actually weaken spinal muscles and worsen the problem.
- Epidural injections – a fluoroscopic injection of corticosteroids into the epidural space—the area between the dura, a thin membrane surrounding the nerves, and the spinal canal. Provides substantial pain relief without surgery.
- Spinal cord stimulators – harnesses the power of electrical impulses to interfere with or scramble pain signals traveling along the nerves of the spine.
- Surgical referrals