Did you know that your spine has 33 vertebrae? Between each of your vertebrae, you will find rubbery pads, called discs. As you age, your discs can become more fragile, making herniated discs a relatively common condition. Herniation can occur anywhere along the spine, although it is most common in the neck or lower back.
You can have a herniated disc and not know it. If the disc is not hitting a nerve, you may not feel any pain at all. If it is, however, this herniation can cause a great deal of pain. For the majority, 90% of people suffering from this condition will be able to treat it without the means of surgery.
What causes a herniated disc?
Your spine is cushioned by sponge-like discs that act as shock absorbers; these discs are comprised of a gel-like nucleus with a hard cartilage exterior. Herniation occurs when this gel-like center migrates through its outer ring. Pressure is then placed on the surrounding discs, triggering inflammation and pain. A herniated disc can happen anywhere along your spine, although it is more typical in the neck and lower back.
When you’re younger, your discs are comprised of a higher water content- almost 80%. As you age, they begin to lose their water retention and dry out. This can cause normal wear and tear, making the discs more prone to injury.
Those affected may have pain that lasts a couple of days and then extend to other parts of the body, depending on where the affected disc is. If your disc is hitting a nerve in your cervical spine, the subsequent pain would be in your shoulder, arm, or neck. If the condition is in your lumbar spine, then your pain may be in your legs, buttock, or back.
The pain may get worse with prolonged sitting; you may prefer to stand. It may also act up first thing in the morning or get worse with bending or reaching. You may experience severe muscle pain and weaker muscles. If you feel any numbness, tingling, or weakness in your legs, lower back, or buttons, seek medical attention- you may be suffering from sciatica.
What puts me at risk?
While a herniated disc may occur after a prominent injury, this condition typically stems from normal wear and tear. Other factors include the following:
Age- With aging comes excessive wear and tear- herniated discs generally occur in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. Generally, after the age of 50, herniated discs are less common; this is due to the fact that by that age, there is less fluid to push out of the disc.
Smoking- One of the negative effects of smoking is that less oxygen is supplied to the discs; this makes the discs more susceptible to degeneration.
Weight- Being overweight can add stress to your discs, especially in the lower back.
Repetitive motions- Constant bending, twisting, lifting, or turning can contribute to wear and tear.
There are several non-surgical treatment options for those suffering from a herniated disc. A specialist will be able to outline the best plan for you, which may include any of the following:
Physical therapy- an exercise regimen would be made to relieve nerve pressure to minimize pain. Stretching and flexibility exercises can also provide pain relief while also increasing joint mobility.
Spinal decompression therapy- is a form of lumbar traction; it works to stretch the spine to alleviate pressure off the spinal discs and relieve pain. By relieving the pressure off the discs, water and nutrients will be able to flow into the discs to help restore health and function. Spinal decompression can be a very highly effective form of non-invasive treatment.
Steroid injection- To reduce inflammation, steroids may be injected into the affected area. It can be effective for those whom have not seen success from 6 weeks or more of continuous non-surgical treatments. It may also be used in conjunction with other non-surgical care.