Most patients with cases of weakness of the lower back muscles, leg and back pain are diagnosed with herniated disc. Disc herniation occurs when the cushion located between the vertebrae are pushed out of its normal position. A herniated disc is painful because the spinal nerves are very close to the edge of the discs.
Various terms used to describe this condition such as a ruptured disc, torn disc, bulging disc or black disc, and it can be confusing to the patient. Instead of focusing on the term used to describe the condition, patients should gather knowledge of the medical diagnosis.
What is a Spinal Disc
The spinal disc is a soft, spongy cushion that sits between the vertebrae. The discs together with the spinal curves act as shock absorbers. In young people, the disc is elastic and soft but gradually becomes more rigid with age and is more vulnerable to injury. As the disc gets less flexible, it can rupture, and a portion of it is pushed outside its boundary. When a herniated disc occurs, the spinal cord and nerves can be pinched causing back pain.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Disc bulging can occur suddenly after an accident or gradually with repetitive straining of the spine. Commonly patients with the ruptured disc already have spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is condition causing narrowing of spaces around the spinal cord and nerves. When the spine and nerves are compressed, the may not work properly, and abnormal signals are sent to and from the brain. Common symptoms of herniated disc include;
- Electric Shock Pain. A strain on the nerves can cause a strange sensation, which is similar to electric shocks. When the compression occurs in your cervical region (neck) the sensation radiates to the arms and when it takes place in the lumbar region (lower back) the sensations travel to the legs.
- Tingling and Numbness. Patients often experience tingling and numbness or pain and needles. The signs may be felt in the same region and can be the very painful.
- Muscle Weakness. Due to nerve irritation, signals from the brain may be interrupted causing muscle weakness. Doctors diagnose nerve irritation mainly by examining muscle reflexes.
- Loss of Bladder and Bowel Control. These symptoms may be signs of other life-threatening conditions that may require immediate medical attention. When experiencing difficulty in urinating or bowel movement and numbness in the genital area, seek medical attention immediately.
Also, read more on Signs that shouldn’t be Ignored for Back Pain
Diagnosis of a Herniated Disc
Doctors often diagnose this condition through a physical examination. Physical examination involves testing of muscle strength, sensation, and reflexes. MRI helps in the diagnosis of a herniated disc. Patients should understand an MRI works when paired with examination findings. Making a diagnosis conclusion and coming up with a treatment strategy depends on the symptoms of the patients, physical examination findings, and the imaging test result. Once this information is compiled, the treatment process can begin.
Herniated Disc Stages
The four stages of the formation of a herniated disc and include;
Disc Degeneration. During the first stage the jelly-like inner layer of the disc changes due to the changes that come with age. At this stage no bulging occurs, the discs dry up and absorbs shock less from your movement.
Prolapse. During this stage, the disc changes form and its position. A slight bulge starts to form, crowding the spinal cord and nerves.
Extrusion. At this stage, the inner jelly-like layer breaks through the hard outer layer but remains within the disc.
Sequestration. This is the final stage where the inner gel-like layer escapes and moves outside the disc into the spinal canal.
Causes of Herniated Disc
Disc herniation is common as a result of slow, age-related wear and tear. As you age the discs lose their water content, making them less flexible and more prone to tearing and injuries. It’s difficult at times to find out the exact cause of herniated disc.
Wear and Tear of the Spine. Herniated disc pain is often the result of daily wear and tear of the spine, also known as disc degeneration. The spine carries and evenly distributes the body’s weight and absorbs shock when we are walking, running, or twisting. The discs work hard to help us move. Thus, they become worn out in the long term. The tough outer layer of the discs begins to loosen, allowing the jelly-like inner layer to escape, creating a herniated disc.
Back Injuries. protruding disc can be caused by accident or sudden twisting motion, putting excessive pressure on the spine and discs. Poor posture when lifting heavy objects from the ground or weak bones can cause disc problems.
Age. Pain associated with this condition may seem sudden, but it’s a result of a gradual process. Young people have a high-water content in their discs that helps them stay flexible. The natural aging process dries up the discs losing their ability to cushion the spine. Most protruding discs occur between the age of 40 to 60.
Overweight. The spine is designed to carry your body weight, but excess weight puts stress on the lower back thus increasing chances of a herniated disc. Obesity not only causes back pain but also causes life-threatening diseases such as disability and heart attacks.
Treatment for Herniated Disc
Herniated disc normally heals on its own, and non-surgical treatments work efficiently. The doctor may recommend a short period of rest followed by gradual increase in activity. The treatments include;
If your pain is mild, the doctor may recommend over the counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen. When the pain killers don’t improve the back pain, narcotics such as codeine are recommended for a short time. Nausea, confusion, and constipation are the side effects of these drugs.
Exercise is the most common and effective way of relieving back pain. A physical therapist can show you exercises designed to ease pain caused by a ruptured disc. A combination of easy poses, breathing exercise and yoga can improve pain.
Rarely, patients with bulging disc required surgery. Doctors recommend surgery when the condition doesn’t improve with simple treatment or signs such as numbness, tingling and imbalance are recurrent.
Hire an Acupuncture or a Masseuse
Research shows that spinal manipulation can be effective for neck and lower back pain. Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medication, where needles are inserted in a particular region of the body. Sounds painful, right? This method eases chronic pain effectively. Massage relieves tension on tight muscles making the spine more flexible. Massage improves blood circulation, which plays a part in the recovery of sore muscles. It also helps in the creation of endorphin, which are chemicals that make you feel good.
Most herniated disc occurs in the lumbar spine causing lower back pain. Prevent these conditions at an early age and live a comfortable old age.