There are many tiny bones that make up the spine, and these bones have small, rubber-like discs that are present within them to create the spine’s structure. The discs in the spine are soft, and they resemble a jelly like material, as they need to be soft in structure in order for the spine to move in different directions without injury occurring. When the soft material that makes up the disc becomes loose, and pushes through the spines cracks, it results in a condition known as a disc herniation.
Symptoms and Causes
A disc herniation causes pain that is most often seen within the lumbar area, which is the lower region of the spine. However, they can also occur within the neck region, which is the cervical spine area. Pain within the arms or legs is the most common symptom of this condition, and the pain is generally most intense in the legs when it is present in the lumbar area. The pain can shoot through the buttocks, calves, and thighs as well. Some patients experience pain in one area of their foot when it is present in the lower back. A numbing sensation, or a sensation of tinging, is often seen in various body parts, and this is due to the effect the herniation has on the nerves. Some muscles can also become weak, which may cause you to experience difficulty when competing different activities, and can even effect your ability to walk properly.
While the exact cause of disc herniation is unknown, the most commonly known factors that contribute to disc degeneration are:
Trauma from lifting
Certain spinal conditions
A physical exam if often the first test used for detection of a disc herniation. Your doctor will generally ask you to lie flat on the table, and they will apply pressure in order to determine if sensitivity is present in different areas of the back. Your physician will also test your reflexes, walking ability, sensations to touch, and muscle strength during this exam. If the doctor suspects you may have a disc herniation, a X-ray or MRI be taken of the area.
Facts about Disc Herniation
- This condition can only be detected with an MRI, and is often misdiagnosed due to the use of an X-ray, which will not pick up the problem.
- Not all disc hernias are painful, and some patients do not experience any pain.
- Conditions involving the discs within the spine are the most misdiagnosed in the health field.
Treatment Options & Care
The first method of treatment used for this condition is techniques that are designed to avoid aggravating the disc and causing pain to occur. Avoiding certain sitting positions, and following a strict exercise plan, are shown to be effective in many cases. Medication can also be used to treat the condition, and over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs are often the first method of treatment. Some patient may require stronger pain medications, such as narcotics, which block off the pain signals to the brain. Nerve pain medications, steroids, and muscle relaxers are also used to help relieve pain.
Therapies can also be used to help treat the condition, and these range from at home applications, to advanced methods of physical therapy. Under the guidance of a physical therapist, you will be provided with information of different at-home techniques you can use to treat the pain that occurs within the disc. The most common at home therapies used include: application of cold and hot compresses to the area experiencing pain and applying a prescription strength topical ointment to the area.
In some cases, the disc may not show any signs of improvement over the course of six weeks, and your doctor may use surgery as the method of treatment. Surgery can correct the herniation and prevent further damage from occurring when it’s unable to heal on its own.