The highest prevalence of disc herniation is among people aged 30-50 years, with a male to female ratio of 2:1. In people aged 25-55 years, about 95% of herniated discs occur at the lower lumbar spine (L4/5 and L5/S1 level); disc herniation above this level is more common in people aged over 55 years. – NCBI

Back pain overwhelms your life when you least expect it. One moment you are sitting comfortably, reading a book, and the next second when you try to grab your coffee mug – ouch! A sharp strikes through your lower back.

What may be the cause? Out of a multitude of reasons, it might be a herniated disc. Let us see how…

What is a herniated disc?

To know about herniated disc, you will need to understand the anatomy of the spine. Your spine is made up of 33 bones called vertebrae. Some of these vertebrae are cushioned by small, round and flat discs. These discs are surrounded with a tough, outer layer, known as annulus that further surrounds jelly like material called the nucleus. These discs are located between each of the vertebrae in the spinal column and act as a shock absorber for spinal bones. These discs are what that allow you to move and bend over your spine. However, the problem arises when a disc between two vertebrae starts slipping out of place. It irritates the surrounding nerves and is the reason for extreme pain you feel. The condition is called a herniated disc or slipped disc

Risk factors for herniated disc

Cause #1 – Wear and tear on the spine

The daily wear and tear on the spine often lead to a condition called degeneration that causes pain. Our spine carries and helps distribute the overall weight, and the discs absorb shock from movement, like walking, twisting and bending. Because the discs contribute so much in our movement, they often wear out over the course of time. The annulus fibrous weakens, allowing the nucleus pulpous leak which creates a bulging or herniated disc.

Cause #2 – Injury

An injury that includes sudden, jerking movement can put too much pressure on the disc, causing it to herniate. Sometimes, lifting a heavy object incorrectly can also twist the disc extremely.

Cause #3 – Lifting Improperly

It is possible that you may have herniated your disc lifting improperly. This usually happens when flexing or rounding of your spine while twisting. This puts extreme pressure and torsion on the spinal segment.

Cause #4 – Lifestyle choices

Lifestyle choices, like overweight, lack of exercise and smoking can also lead to herniated disc. Other factors include – loss of strength and weakness of the disc due to aging, poor posture, repetitive and incorrect lifting or twisting motions.

Cause #5- Sitting Improperly

Believe it or not, sitting improperly is the number one reason why patient’s herniate their disc. it happens because sitting puts the most pressure on your disc! It weakens the annulus, the outer layer of your disc. Overtime this allows the nucleus to herniate.

Symptoms of herniated disc

Depending on the herniated disc and size of the herniation, symptoms vary greatly. If the herniated disc is not insisting on the nerve, the patient may experience either low back pain or no pain at all. If it is pressing the nerve, the patient might experience pain, numbness or weakness in the area of the body to which nerve goes through. Usually, a herniated disc is followed by an incident of low back pain or a history of similar intermittent incidents.

● Lumbar spine – Sciatica is the outcome of frequent herniated disc in the lower back. Pressure on several nerves contributes to the sciatic nerve that can lead to pain, burning, tingling, and numbness that emits from the buttock to leg or foot. Usually, life or right side is affected. This pain is similar to spontaneous or electric shock. It may become more severe with movements, like walking, sitting, or standing.

● Cervical spine – This condition affects neck and symptoms include sharp pain in neck or shoulder blades. The pain usually radiates down the arm to the arm or fingers and cause numbness or tingling in the shoulder or arm. The pain may increase with movements in the affected area.

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Diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually done by a Doctor Of Physical Therapy or Neuro Surgeon based on history, symptoms and physical examination and some tests which may include:

  • X-ray – Shows the structure of the vertebrae and outline of the joints. X-ray suggests the potential causes of pain, like tumors, fractures, etc.
  • Computed tomography scan or CT scan – Shows the shape and size of the spinal canal and structure around it
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – Shows the spinal cord, nerve roots and affected surrounded area, including degeneration, tumors or enlargement
  • Myelogram – Show pressure on the spinal cord or nerves due to herniated discs, bone spurs or tumors
  • Electromyogram – Measure the electrical impulse along nerve roots, muscle tissue, and peripheral nerves. It indicates if there is ongoing nerve damage or it is a state of healing from a past injury.
  • Physical Examination – Your Doctor Of Physical Therapy will take you through a series of tests and measures that tests the disc in your spine. They can pinpoint if you truly do have a herniated disc without the expensive tests and x-rays. They will also detect what caused your back injury in the first place so you can get to the source of it.

Treatment

Fortunately, the majority of herniated discs cases do not require surgery. A small percentage of patients with a herniated disc may experience severe low back which may affect their daily life. The initial treatments are usually nonsurgical. The doctor advises the patients to maintain a low, painless activity level for a few days or weeks. It helps curb the inflammation.

Another effective treatment is physical therapy from a spine physical therapist which includes diagnoses of the condition, fixing the root cause of your disc injury, and helping you put it back in place with specific exercises and techniques.

In some cases, your physician may recommend anti-inflammatory medication if the pain varies from mild to moderate. An epidural steroid injection is also given under the x-ray guidance to direct the medication to the exact affected area. Other therapy includes – ice and heat therapy, electrical muscle stimulation, gentle massage, stretching exercises.
Hope this guide will give you a good idea about herniated disc. It is recommended to consult a Doctor Of Physical therapy if you experience any symptoms, mentioned above. Stay healthy!

If you are struggling with back pain or sciatica, get associated with us. We specialize in helping patients like YOU. We help prevent unnecessary surgeries, use of painkillers and get your back to stay as active as you used to be! If you want to know more on all the different ways we’re able to help you call our office at 239-223-0484 or inquire about cost and appointment availability by clicking here.

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About Author: Dr. Scott Gray

Dr. Scott Gray is an internationally recognized and expert physical therapist specializing in sport, athletic, and back and neck injuries. He is the inventor of a revolutionary form of treatment called the GRAY METHOD. This type of treatment unlike others, addresses the CAUSE rather than just your SYMPTOMS with a full body approach. For more information on how to ease or overcome your injury, go to www.backinmotionsspt.com.

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