The human spine or backbone, made up of a series of bones called vertebrae that are stacked on each other. These bones are protected and cushioned by discs (also called disks or intervertebral discs) that act as shock absorbers and help to support the vertebrae. Spinal discs can be thought of as doughnuts with a tough outer ring, known as the annulus fibrosis, and a jelly-like material filling-up the center, known as the nucleus pulposus. A spinal disc herniation or a slipped disk occurs when the outer ring ruptures and the inner portion of the ring protrudes out. The escape of the jelly-like material can irritate the nerves in the surrounding areas and cause considerable radiating pain and discomfort. If left untreated, the condition may aggravate further and result in chronic pain in the neck, back and surrounding areas that won’t resolve with traditional medications. Physicians who are members of the Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center referral line treat a verity of spine conditions, including disc herniations. Continuing the discussion, this blog post discusses in detail, the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment methods for a spinal disc herniation. Take a look.
Read More : Follow These 5 Steps to Avoid a Herniated Disc
What are the Symptoms?
A spinal disc herniation or a slipped disk can occur along the entire length of the spine, from the neck and extending to the lower back. However, slipped disks often occur in the lumbar spine (lower back) or the cervical spine (the neck). Some people can have herniated disks without exhibiting a single symptom however, most people experience symptoms such as:
- Pain on one side of the body
- Pain radiating into the arms and the legs
- Pain that is aggravated after sitting or standing for long periods
- Numbness, tenderness, and a tingling sensation in the affected area
The pain generally remains localized to areas such as buttocks, thighs, shoulders, and arms, depending on the location of the herniated disk. It can, however, extend to other areas after coughing, sneezing, or adjusting your posture. A numbing sensation may affect activities involving muscle controlling abilities, such as lifting and holding items.
What are the Causes?
Spinal disks start losing their water content with aging, resulting in loss of their flexibility and ability to resist tear and rupture. This can make it easier for them to slip out of place. Though herniated disc causes are mostly due to neck and back degenerative disc disease, any traumatic event affecting the lower back and the neck can also lead to a slipped disk. People who are overweight are also at a higher risk as the excess weight is supported by the discs in the spine along with other joints throughout the body. Apart from such causes, lifting heavy objects for prolonged periods, as required in some jobs, can also cause spinal disk herniation.
A doctor may start the diagnosis with a physical exam to check the affected area to determine the level of tenderness, swelling, and pain. They may also ask about your medical history to pinpoint an event that may have pushed the disk out of place. Going ahead, neurological exams may also be performed for an in-depth analysis of reflexes, muscle strength, and walking ability. Depending on the severity of the herniated disk it could cause nerve pinching, which may be detected through:
Used to reveal the location of the slipped disk and pinched nerves.
This test reveals the pressure on the spinal cord and nearby nerves, if multiple herniated disks are present. Nerve tests can further help pinpoint the location of nerve damage.
The treatment method for slipped disks largely depends on the level of discomfort and dislocation. In many cases a slipped disk can be treated through specific exercises that aim at strengthening the muscles in the affected area. For painful symptoms, the doctor can prescribe a range of pain relievers such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen. If the pain still doesn’t dissipate, stronger pain medications, narcotics, and nerve pain medications can also be prescribed. Physical therapy can also be employed involving applying heat, ice, and short term-bracing to help with pain and tenderness. Only a small percentage of patients require surgical intervention, if conservative disc herniation treatment methods fail to pacify the symptoms even after six weeks. Surgery options could include a microdiscectomy, discectomy, artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion.
Most patients with disc herniations respond well to conservative treatment methods and symptoms gradually subside within a few weeks. Treatment, however, requires a significant lifestyle change, as there is always a risk of relapse even after undergoing treatment. Patients should maintain mobility of the body, avoid too much bed rest, maintain a healthy weight, and do stretching exercises periodically. If you suspect you have symptoms of a herniated disk, the participating physicians at Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic center may be able to help. The physician members have extensive experience in tackling disc related problems. To learn more about available treatment options, book an appointment here. You can also call at 1-888-608-4762.
Disclaimer: Physicians who are members of the referral program practice independently and are not employees or agents of Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center.