The disc is a combination of strong connective tissues which hold one vertebra to the next and acts as a cushion between the vertebrae. As you get older, the center of the disc may start to lose water content, making the disc less effective as a cushion. This may cause a displacement of the disc’s center called a herniated or ruptured disc through a crack in the outer layer, often referred to as a “pinched nerve.”
Symptoms of a herniated disc may be one or all of the following:
- Back pain
- Pain in the chest and extremities (arms, shoulders, legs)
- Numbness or a tingling sensation in the extremities
- Weakness in the extremities
- Loss of bladder or bowel control (extremely rare) This may indicate a more serious problem called cauda equina syndrome. This condition is caused by the spinal nerve roots being compressed. It requires immediate medical attention.
Any injury to the vertebrae can have consequences to the spinal cord, the central nervous system’s connection between the brain and the body that runs through the center of the vertebrae. Damage to the spinal cord can result in paralysis or death. Beyond general and acute pain, nerve pain, and numbness caused by a herniated disc, injury to the spinal cord can lead to temporary or permanent paralysis of the entire body from the neck down.
If you suspect you might have a herniated disc, contact us today. A spine expert at Dr. Hamid Mir’s spine centers will evaluate the bone and connective tissue displacement and pattern in order to decide whether spine surgery is needed.
In the case of traumatic injury or fracture as a cause of or resulting in a herniated disc, it may be difficult to assess at first evaluation the extent of injuries to the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar spine. It is important that while at the scene accident, first check vital signs, including the patient’s consciousness, ability to breathe, and heart rate. After these are stabilized, emergency workers will assess obvious bleeding and limb-deforming injuries.
Before moving the patient, you must immobilize the patient in a cervical (neck) collar and backboard. The trauma team will perform a complete and thorough evaluation in the hospital emergency room.
Nonsurgical treatments include rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and epidural steroid injections.
Only a small percentage of patients with disc herniations require spine surgery. Surgery is typically recommended only after a period of nonsurgical treatment has not relieved painful symptoms. Microdiscectomy is most common, involving the removal of the herniated part of the disc and any fragments that are putting pressure on the spinal nerve.
Most patients with a herniated disc do not require formal physical therapy after surgery. When your surgeon confirms that your incision is healed, you may begin a rehabilitation exercise program. A simple walking program 30 minutes each day, along with flexibility exercises for the back and legs, can be done as a home program. If needed, your surgeon will refer you to a physical therapist.
The following are the risk factors of developing a herniated disc:
- Gender. Men between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to have a herniated disc.
- Improper lifting. Using your back muscles to lift heavy objects, instead of your legs, can cause a herniated disc. Twisting while you lift can also make your back vulnerable. Lifting with your legs, not your back, may protect your spine.
- Weight. Being overweight puts added stress on the discs in your lower back.
- Repetitive activities that strain your spine. Many jobs are physically demanding. Some require constant lifting, pulling, bending, or twisting. Using safe lifting and movement techniques can help protect your back.
- Frequent driving. Staying seated for long periods, plus the vibration from the car engine, can put pressure on your spine and discs.
- Sedentary lifestyle. Regular exercise is important in preventing many medical conditions, including a herniated disc.
- Smoking. It is believed that smoking lessens oxygen supply to the disc and causes more rapid degeneration.
Naturally, it is recommended to stay healthy by not or quitting smoking, eat a healthy diet that is rich in calcium and vitamins, and exercise regularly. In addition, it is important to be conscious of your posture when you’re walking and when you’re sitting.