What is disc herniation and what are the symptoms?
A disc herniation occurs when a spinal disc, which is like a rubbery cushion, that separates your vertebrae, the individual bones that comprise your spine, is in some manner damaged. The disc, which has a soft center and a tough exterior, may be compromised in a way that the soft center is compressed and pushed out through a crack in the exterior surface. At that point, the herniated disc may come in contact with nerves, causing pain in the arm or legs, numbness or tingling and/or weakness in one leg. The type of pain one feels can vary from being dull and ongoing to extremely sharp to constant and throbbing.
Why do herniated discs hurt?
Interestingly enough, often times a disc herniation does not cause pain. When it does this is due to the instance of the bulging disc coming in contact with nerves located along the spine in the back. Most often those with pain have had their disc herniation created by some sudden, severe trauma.
What other conditions may be causing my back pain?
There are many different conditions that can cause back pain, including muscle, ligament, joint, or tendon strain or damage. Also, certain underlying diseases can result in back pain. Whatever the cause may be, if your pain is severe or if it lasts for more than two weeks, it’s best to have it checked out by your physician.
What are some of the risk factors that cause disc herniation?
There are three primary factors that are often involved in disc herniation. Those who are overweight or obese put extra weight and stress on their lower back and the discs in that region. They are more susceptible to back and disc problems. Certain occupations also put people at risk. Work that involves heavy and/or repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, bending sideways, or twisting or that involves being in a position for long periods of time that puts pressure on the lower back. Finally, some people, due to their genetics, are more prone to this condition.
What treatments are available for disc herniation?
There are a range of treatments available, including the use of pain medications and rest, as the disc is allowed to slowly heal itself, acupuncture, injection therapy, nonsurgical spinal decompression, and physical therapy. Surgery is also used to treat disc herniation as a last resort.
Are their things that I can do at home to help my disc heal?
Yes, you can be proactive in enabling the healing process. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may help to relieve the pain, allowing you to find some comfort and relieve a certain amount of the stress and tension. Use cold packs during the first few days. These will lessen the pain and relieve inflammation. After a few days, you should switch to moist, gentle heat.
This treatment will provide some relief and add to your comfort. Packs should be administered for about 30 minutes at a time. Too often people will lie in bed for extended periods of time in order to relieve the pain. However, it’s better to rest in a comfortable position for about 30 minutes and then get up and go for a short walk or engage in some type of work that will not interfere with your healing or cause pain.
What are the risks related to surgery?
Surgery is an invasive procedure that involves many risks. Some are related to the fact that any type of surgery includes a certain amount of risk. These risks include creating an incision in the body, which may invite infection; the actual procedure, which may or may not be properly executed; and the use of anesthesia, which offers certain risk factors in terms of its administration and patient sensitivity. Of all possible treatments for a herniated disc, surgery is the most invasion and risky.
What are the chances that I will become paralyzed from a herniated disc?
This is a rare occurrence, as the disc herniation would have to compress the entire cauda equine, which is the area just below the waist where the spinal cord separates into a cluster of long nerve roots. However, if you have the following symptoms, you should seek emergency assistance immediately:
- Worsening pain, numbness or weakness that becomes so bad that you cannot properly function
- If you become incontinent or find it difficult to urinate
- If you have a loss of sensation that is progressive and affects the area around the rectum, back of your legs, and inner thighs
What can I do to prevent disc herniation?
Many people can prevent or lessen their chances of disc herniation by taking just a few proactive steps. First, it is important to exercise and to strengthen your trunk muscles as this will support and stabilize your spine. In doing so there will be less pressure on your discs. Second, stay at a healthy weight. Over time, excess weight takes its toll on your joints including those in your spine, and it will strain the discs between your vertebrae.
Next, pay attention to your posture. This is simple enough and it greatly reduces the daily stress that you put on your back and those discs. When you are sitting for long period, keep properly aligned and support your back, and when you lift objects let your legs do the bulk of the work.