The spine is comprised of 26 bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae are protected by layers of soft cushioning with a jelly-like center. These are the discs, which serve as both shock absorbers and stabilizers to hold the vertebrae in place. When one or more of the discs rupture, it is called a herniated disc. A herniated disc is also commonly referred to as a slipped disc or disc prolapse. This condition can cause severe pain and disability, particularly if the herniation is large. In that case, the disc tissue can press on the spinal nerves. Disc herniation occurs most commonly in the back but can also occur in the vertebrae of the neck.
Risk factors may include:
- Age. As we grow older, the rubbery discs separating the vertebrae can weaken, becoming dry and thin. They can also lose strength and resiliency. These factors predispose them to tear. The process of this type of disc degeneration begins around age 30, significantly accelerating by age 50
- Family history. There is substantial proof in medical literature of a heredity factor involving the increased risk of disc herniation
- Gender. Herniated discs are more common in men, who have approximately twice the risk of women
- High-risk occupations. Jobs with physical demands, such as heavy lifting, bending and twisting, can increase risk because these activities place stress on the structures of the spine
- Lifestyle choices. Bad habits such as poor nutrition or lack of exercise can jeopardize the discs. Good nutrition and hydration nourish spinal discs. Exercise facilitates the exchange of fluids in discs, enhancing their nutrition
- Poor posture. When poor posture is coupled with poor body mechanics, it exerts stress on the lumbar spine, predisposing it to disc problems
- Obesity. Excess weight increases the stress on the spine, making it more likely for a disc to herniate
- Smoking. Disc degeneration is accelerated and disc healing is hampered with the use of nicotine, a chemical that limits blood flow to spinal discs
Herniated Disc Symptoms
Symptoms vary according to the location of a herniated disc.
For the back, symptoms include:
- General pain in the lower back
- Numbness or tingling in the lower body, specifically in the legs and/or feet
- Sciatica, a condition in which pain radiates to the buttocks, legs and feet
- Weakness of muscles
For the neck, symptoms include:
- Pain in the area of the shoulder blade
- Pain commonly in the back and on the sides of the neck
- Radiating pain to the arm, shoulder, and at times, to the hand and fingers
- Spasm or stiffness in the muscles of the neck
- Weakness in any of the above areas
Diagnosis of a Herniated Disc
The diagnosis of a herniated disc is comprised of several steps:
- Medical History. A physician will review a description of the patient’s symptoms, including the location, level and circumstances of pain or other symptoms.
- Physical Examination. A physician will administer a physical exam, testing for muscle strength in various parts of the body, such as arms or legs. A test of reflexes will likely be included.
- Diagnostic tests. These may include X-rays (to rule out other causes of symptoms); a CT scan; an MRI; a myelogram (X-rays with dye, which can show pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord due to herniated discs); nerve conduction studies (e.g., EMG, which measures muscles’ electrical activity).
Herniated Disc Treatments
At Nova Spine & Pain Centers, we alleviate pain using a wide variety of minimally invasive procedures. Our expert care ensures a customized approach, utilizing knowledge of targeted methods to offer our patients pain relief and the best care possible. We effectively perform the following procedures to treat various aspects of pain caused by herniated discs:
For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.