Herniated Disc: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Herniated Disc: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

 

The vertebrae or bones of the spine are cushioned by discs, which act as shock absorbers and also support the body. The spinal disc is filled with a material that is enclosed in a harder exterior. When this material known as the nucleus pulposus leaks out of the annulus, which is the hard exterior of the disc, it is known as a ruptured or herniated disc. The disc degeneration begins in adulthood and deteriorates with aging. 

The leaked fluid from the disc can irritate a nearby nerve and cause pain or weakness in the arm or leg. It can also cause back pain and numbness. Sometimes people with a herniated disc experience no symptoms at all but in certain cases, the pain can be excruciating and difficult to deal with.

The immediate cause behind this condition is not clear and it is usually triggered by vigorous physical activity involving the spine. The lower back is very susceptible to injuries and lifting heavy objects or sudden movements can easily cause damage. This condition usually affects people in their middle and older age. This disease is sometimes confused with degenerative disc disease and therefore a proper diagnosis is very important to ensure the right treatment and recovery. 

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Symptoms

The pain associated with a herniated disc radiates along the nerve and can range from mild to severe depending upon the extent of inflammation of the nerve.

  • Neuropathic Pain: A radiating pain that starts from the lower back and radiates towards the arms and legs. The pain is sharp.
  • Sciatica: A ruptured disc is the most common cause of pain in the sciatic nerve that runs down the leg.
  • Lower Back Pain: If the disc herniates in the lumbar region then it results in shooting pain in the lower back and buttocks.
  • Foot Drop: A condition that affects the foot and makes it very difficult to lift or move the foot. This condition is also a symptom of a herniated disc. 
  • Pain Worsening: The pain associated with herniated disc usually worsens with time. Even slight movement can cause excruciating pain, especially bending or hunching. Walking and standing for some time can also make the condition worse. 

Causes

With aging, the spinal discs become hard and lose their water content. This makes the hard exterior of the disc prone to cracks and leads to leakage of the fluid material. A traumatic event such as falling or an accident can also lead to a herniated disc.

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Diagnosis

Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and also look into your past medical history. Certain physical tests would be conducted to determine the cause and origin of the pain. A neurological exam will check for numbness and any other loss of sensation in the body. The range of motion test and the leg raised test would also be performed. 

Other than these imaging tests such as MRI, X-ray, and CT scan would be included to rule out any other possibilities of pain. 

Treatment

Non-Surgical Multi-Disciplinary treatment works best in a herniated discs. The first step of treatment includes an ice pack, hot pack, and NSAIDs to counter pain. Spinal injections such as epidural steroid injections, facet joint injections, Medial Branch Block injections, etc. combine a local anesthetic and steroid medication to reduce inflamed nerve tissues and thereby often help to reduce pain. Manual Mobilizations along with exercises and ways to make certain movements without further aggravating the pain i.e. postural analysis helps to reduce pain

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