Herniated Disc: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Overview

A herniated disc is also called a ruptured disc or a slipped disc. The condition refers to the problem with one of the intervertebral discs between the vertebrae, which are the bones of the spine. In the human body, we have totally 33 bones or vertebrae. Adjacent vertebrae are connected by the intervertebral discs, which are connective tissues. Mainly, the intervertebral discs serve as the cushions and shock absorbers for the bones. A spinal disk is made up of two parts, a soft, gelatinous inner portion, and a tough outer ring. When the inner portion protrudes out through the outer ring, the herniated disc occurs.

A herniated disk can cause pain, numbness and weakness in the arms and legs and discomfort. But for many people with a herniated disc, they may not feel the symptoms at all. Normally, symptoms of the condition resolve after several weeks. Under the circumstance that the situation gets worse, surgery may be recommended by the doctor. Moreover, the herniated disc is often considered as the result of degenerative disc disease.

According to statistics, a herniated disc is most frequently seen in people who are between the age of 30 and 50. Males are more likely to have a herniated disk than females. Also, in people between the age of 25 to 55, about 95% of their herniated disc happen at the lower lumbar spine, the lower back.


Causes

A herniated disc is often related to aging-related wear-and-tear changes. As people grow old, the outer ring of the disc becomes weak and the inner water content tends to slip out. In this situation, the disc becomes less flexible, which makes the outer ring easier to rupture. This process is called disc degeneration and is often associated with degenerative disc disease.

But, when it comes to the exact cause of the herniated disc, the condition may have various reasons. Lifting heavy objects with improper techniques, the sudden strain on the lower back, or a traumatic event can lead to a herniated disc. For people with a very physically demanding job, they do a lot of lifting and thus are at higher risk of developing a herniated disc.


Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of a herniated disc may include the following:

  • Pain in the arm and leg if the herniated disc is in the lower back
  • Pain in the shoulder and arm of the herniated disc is in the neck
  • Shooting pain while coughing, sensing or moving the spine
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness in the affected area
  • Having trouble lifting and holding things
  • Sciatica

Usually, people with a herniated disc will feel the pain being more intense at night. If they sit or stand for long periods of time, painful feelings tend to get worse and worse. But the symptoms can vary from individual to individual. For some people, they may notice no pain at all.


Diagnosis

In often cases, a doctor can tell if a person has a herniated disc or not with a physical examination. In the process, the doctor will check if the person’s reflexes, muscle strength, the range of motion, and walking ability are okay.

To get a more accurate diagnosis, the doctor may order some imaging tests such as X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Computed tomography (CT) scans to get detailed images of the body and make a thorough diagnosis.


Treatment

A herniated disc can be very painful, but proper treatment can be very helpful to reduce the symptoms. At present, non-surgical treatment and surgical treatment are both available.

Non-surgical treatment

  • Physical therapy. Usually, people with a herniated disc can ease their pain by engaging in exercises programs. Stretching and strengthening the back muscles can minimize the pain. A physical therapist may tailor specific training programs for a patient with the condition.
  • Pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen can be taken to help ease the pain. If they do not work, the patient may turn to the doctor and get some prescribed narcotics, epidural injections, cortisone injections, and muscle relaxants.
  • Others. Wearing a back brace for a short time can also be helpful. The doctor may also recommend heat and ice therapy to reduce pain. And ultrasound can be used to improve blood flow.

Surgical treatment

In severe cases, the doctor may recommend the patient with a herniated disc to receive surgery as well. Usually, the doctor may conduct an open discectomy or artificial disk replacement.


Prevention

To avoid having a herniated disc, you may need to:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Use correct lifting techniques
  • Arrange more time for resting
  • Do exercises on a regular basis
  • Avoid sitting or standing for a long period of time


Keywords: a herniated disc; a slipped disc; a ruptured disc.


Related Posts:

What is Herniated Disc?

Bulging Disc: Basic Information

What Causes Spinal Stenosis?

What Does Sciatica Pain Feel Like?

How to Relieve Severe Sciatica?

Degenerative Disc Disease: Symptoms, Treatment, Complications

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.