A herniated disc, also known as a ruptured or slipped disc, is a relatively common spinal condition. It may occur as a result of gradual wear and tear on a spinal disc or from an injury to the spine that cracks a disc, causing it to bulge or break open.
Spinal discs are cushiony, sponge-like pads that sit between the vertebrae (the bones of your spine). A spinal disc is like a jelly donut. The outside of the “donut” is called the annulus fibrosus (AF). It is made of many ring-like layers of fibrous tissue, with tough on the inside and softer in the middle. The “jelly” part in the middle is called the nucleus pulposus (NP).
With a herniated disc, the NP can break through the outer AF layer, pressing against an adjacent nerve root. If the inner NP tissue touches or presses directly on your spinal cord or nerve root, you could experience pain if the affected nerves are not functioning properly.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Depending on the location of the disc, patients with a herniated disc may experience:
- Radiating pain into the legs or arms
Symptoms from a herniated disc often develop suddenly and might gradually go away as the material is reabsorbed back into the disc. However, if the material remains, it can put more pressure on your nerves, which might lead to more severe or chronic pain.
Causes of a Herniated Disc
A herniated disc is often the result of a traumatic injury, such as a fall, car accident, or some other type of impact on your back. However, some people develop a herniated disc without any history of trauma.
Occupational and lifestyle factors may play a role in herniated discs. For example, if you are active, especially if you lift heavy at the gym, you might be at a higher risk for acute herniation, but this will likely go away with rest and at-home treatments.
Likewise, those who work in manual labor jobs are more likely to develop a herniated disc due to the strain they put on their backs. Smokers are also at higher risk because smoking weakens your body’s ability to heal itself.
Diagnosing a Herniated Disc
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history, examine your spine for tenderness, muscle spasms or weakness in your back.
If the location where the herniated disc is causing problems suggests a particular structure or nerve is affected, diagnostic tests can be used to identify which spinal structures are involved. If the condition has been developing over time, imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI can help identify the exact cause.
Treatment for a Herniated Disc
Most herniated discs are acute and will resolve on their own without treatment. Your doctor will recommend rest, avoiding strenuous activity and possibly taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.
If pain continues, the multidisciplinary team at Comprehensive Medical Care offers a variety of treatment options to address the root cause of a herniated disc and relieve pressure on affected nerves.