Patients who suffer from a herniated disc in the back are often dealing to chronic and severe pain that takes them away from life and the activities they enjoy. Many people with herniated discs have difficulty sleeping, playing with their children, sitting, and doing almost anything at all. If you are suffering from a herniated disc, please talk to a practitioner at the Sheppard Spine and Sports Clinic today so that we can help you to devise a treatment program.
Below is more information about herniated discs. Please contact the Sheppard Spine and Sports Clinic for more information about your condition.
A herniated disc is a degenerative condition of the spine that causes chronic pain. Most herniated discs are simply due to long term wear and tear on the spine from age. But they also can be caused by a traumatic injury, such as a fall or car accident. Activities also can lead to back problems, such as working that involves a great deal of movement and twisting, golfing, and high impact sports such as football. Lifestyle choices, such as smoking, exercise and nutrition also can play a role in the development of herniated discs.
Most herniated discs are treated with a variety of nonsurgical treatments. But for the most serious herniated discs, surgery may be needed when more conservative treatments have not been effective.
Causes and Symptoms of Herniated Disc
The vertebrae of the spine are cushioned by discs that are rubbery and flexible. Each disc separates one vertebra from the next. This allows for the spine to be flexible and movable. There are two parts of a spinal disc. The first is the gel like interior that is called the nucleus pulposus, and a tough outer shell called the annulus fibrosus. When you have a herniated disc, pressure at the center of the disc causes a tear in the exterior. This allows some of the soft material in the inner disc to stick out.
A herniated disc is not always painful, but very painful symptoms can happen in two ways. First, local pain can develop if the nerve tissue on the surface of the disc is affected. Second, if any material from inside the disc contacts the nerve roots or spinal cord, pain signals can be sent to various parts of the body.
Pain in various parts of the body is the most common reason people seek treatment for a herniated disc. The nerve compression can lead to severe, burning pain and even muscle weakness in the legs, feet, arms or hands, leading to a major disruption of your life. It also is common for the extremities to have numbness and tingling as the nerve roots are irritated by the herniated disc.
Risk Factors for Herniated Disc
There are many things that can cause herniated discs. But the most common one is the aging process. As we age, the discs that separate the vertebrae can dry and become weaker. This causes more pressure that can lead to the hard outer shell of the disc to tear. When the disc material gets into the spinal canal, it can lead to a serious problem.
The facts of aging specifically affect the spine in these ways:
- The spine wears out over many years of supporting most of the weight of your body
- The regular strain of lifting, twisting and bending
- Normal dehydration of the disc nuclei
- Natural weakening of the spinal disc walls over time
Other factors that can lead to a herniated disc include obesity, genetics and occupation. Many patients who have been obese for years have put a lot of strain on their back without realizing it. Once they get into middle age, it is common for discs to begin to wear out.
There is no way to stop ourselves from aging, but there are effective ways to keep the spine healthy over the years. When you are getting a treatment plan set up with your healthcare professional, it is always important to work with someone that can help to improve your lifestyle to prevent disc problems. Some of the ways to reduce disc problems are:
- Low impact exercises: Swimming or walking can lead to strong back and abdominal muscles. It also will strengthen the cardiovascular system without putting stress on the back and other joints.
- Stretching: Keeping your muscles and ligaments loose can improve the flexibility of the spine.
- Healthy diet: Eating foods that are high in nutrients keep you healthy and thin; being at a normal weight puts more pressure on the spine.
- Not smoking: Smoking leads to reduction in circulation and blocks effective absorption of nutrients.
It also is important overall to have good posture to prevent spinal problems from developing in the first place. Good posture is very important to keep the spine aligned and to strengthen the core muscles. These muscles help the spine and keep it stable. If you keep your core muscles strong, weight is being removed from the spine and reducing the chances of having degenerative conditions of the back. Remember to practice good posture over your life in these activities:
- Working, which involves sitting for a long time
- Standing for a long time
- Any time you must stand or sit for hours
Diagnosis for Herniated Disc
Being properly diagnosed for this condition requires an experienced healthcare professional. First, your doctor will take a complete medical history and perform a physical examination. Tests can be useful to confirm the diagnosis, such as an X-ray, MRI or CT scan.
Treatments for Herniated Disc
If you have pain from a herniated disc, your Sheppard Spine and Sports Clinic professional will usually prescribe various conservative treatments. Some of these include:
- Ice and heat
- U.C.C.A. chiropractic manipulation
- Herbal remedies
- Physical therapy
- Pain drugs
- Steroid injection
If several weeks or months of conservative pain treatment do not provide enough pain relief, surgery may be considered as a last resort. Traditional, open back surgery has long been associated with risks and long time for recovery. But today, there are less invasive surgical options available.
When To See a Medical Professional Immediately
A herniated disc will typically exhibit pain symptoms as noted above. But you should see a doctor or go to an ER immediately if you have the following:
- Symptoms getting worse: If you cannot perform basic daily functions or sleep at all due to pain.
- Dysfunction of the bowels or bladder: People with a severe herniated disc may become incontinent or could have troubling urinating even when the bladder is full.
- Saddle anesthesia: This is a condition where there is a loss of sensation in the back of the legs, inner thighs and rectum area.
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- Herniated Disc Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from