A herniated disc is the result of the nucleus pushing out through a tear in the annulus in the vertebra that stack to make your spine. Commonly referred to as a slipped or ruptured disc, this type of herniation causes irritation of the spine and nearby nerves. Depending on the location of the herniated disc, there can be pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg.
Naturally as you age, disc material degenerates naturally and the ligaments that hold the disc in place begin to weaken. As you age, this type of degeneration makes herniation more likely to occur because your disks become less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing with minor straining or twisting. Other causes of herniated discs include:
Factors which can increase your risk of a herniated disc include:
Symptoms depend on how bad the herniation is and where on your spine the herniation has occurred. Common areas of the spine that could be affected include:
Most herniated discs occur in the lower back; however, they can also occur in the neck. Signs and symptoms depend upon the location of the disc and whether or not the disc is pressing on a nerve, and it usually affects one side of the body. See a doctor if you have the following symptoms:
In some cases, you can have a herniated disc without symptoms, and may not know it, unless it shows up on a spinal image.
To help prevent a herniated disc, consider the following habits:
Your Memorial Hermann Mischer Neurosciences provider may also order and conduct tests such as:
Most herniated discs do not require surgery, so your doctor may prescribe bed rest or advise you to maintain a low, pain-free level of activity ranging from a few days to several weeks.
If the pain is mild to moderate, a herniated disc is frequently treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as an epidural steroid injection, which may be performed using a spinal needle under X-ray guidance to direct medication to the exact level of disc herniation.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy, at which point the therapist will perform an in-depth evaluation, which, combined with the doctor’s diagnosis, will dictate a treatment specifically designed for patients with herniated discs.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if conservative treatment options, such as physical therapy and medications, do not reduce or stop the pain altogether. Based on the specifics of your case, your doctor will help you to determine the procedure appropriate for you. As with any surgery, the benefits of this treatment option are always weighed carefully against the associated risks, such as a patient’s age, overall health and other issues—all of which are taken into consideration when recommending surgery.
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