MidAmerica Orthopaedics Blog

Herniated Discs: Symptoms and Treatment

While there are multiple causes for back pain, a common diagnosis is a herniated disc.  Commonly referred to as a “ruptured” or “slipped” disc, a herniated disc often affects the lower back or neck region with pain ranging from mild to extreme. Fortunately when it comes to herniated discs, most patients experience significant improvement within a few months of home treatment and physical therapy.

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Causes & Symptoms
 

The spinal column is comprised of vertebrae and discs. Vertebrae are a series of small bones running from the lower back to the neck. Discs are the soft rubbery pads between each vertebrae. Discs in the lumbar spine are comprised of an outer ring of cartilage, called the “annulus” and an inner gel-like substance called the “nucleus.” Discs in the cervical spine (neck) are smaller in size, but similarly structured. These discs are vital to spinal functionality, acting as shock absorbers and enabling flexing and bending.

When a disc herniates, the central nucleus pushes through the annulus. This places pressure on the surrounding nerves and can often result in sciatic nerve pain (lower back pain), numbness, or weakness throughout the body. A ruptured disc may have multiple causes. The most common include:

  • Strenuous activity or exercise
  • Improper lifting techniques
  • Age lead disc degeneration
  • Regular smoking and drinking

Additionally, there are four stages of disc herniation. They are as follows:

  1.  Degeneration - When the nucleus pushes into the outer annulus causing mild to moderate pain and discomfort.

  2. Protrusion - When the annulus forms a bulge, which places pressure on spinal nerves.

  3. Extrusion - When the annulus ruptures, but the nucleus remains intact.

  4. Sequestration - When the annulus ruptures and the nucleus separates from the disc.


Common Misconceptions

While herniated discs are a common injury, there are still many misconceptions surrounding the this area of work.


Myth #1: Patients will have a permanent disability

Whether it’s working manual labor jobs, exercising, caring for children or just sitting comfortably, patients often fear a herniated disc can infringe permanent limitations on everyday life. This does not have to be the case. When help is sought on a timely basis, patients can experience a full recovery and return to their normal lifestyles.


Myth #2: Surgery is the only option

Patients with herniated discs often fear surgery is their only option. The truth is, however, only a small percentage of patients need surgery. In fact, the most common treatment method for herniated disc pain is non-surgical home care. Common treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications

  • Hot and cold compresses on the affected area applied several times daily in increments of no more than 20 minutes at a time

  • Mediated bed rest (excessive time in bed can actually weaken muscles and joints, sometimes worsening symptoms)

  • Moderate, measured physical activity (consult with a doctor before hand)

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If the above treatments fail to relieve symptoms, epidural injections of a cortisone-like drug may be given on an outpatient basis over a number of weeks to lessen nerve inflammation and improve physical therapy performance.

Surgical Treatment

When home treatment has failed, herniated disc surgery is an option. At MidAmerica Orthopaedics, Neurological Surgeon Dr. Kevin M. Jackson specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS). MISS can help reduce tissue trauma, postoperative pain, and recovery time. While some post-surgery pain is to be expected, advancements in pain management and post-surgery physical therapy make it easier than ever to manage discomfort. 

Post-Surgery

At MidAmerica Orthopaedics, our post-surgery physical therapy and rehabilitation consists of recommended exercises and stretches, as well as training in proper bending and lifting techniques to avoid future injuries. Our regiments aim to get our patients back on their feet, returning to daily activities, and moving at the speed of life. Full recovery time is based on the severity of the condition and is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
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To learn more about MidAmerica Orthopaedics and the different treatment options available to you, visit our website.

To schedule an appointment with MidAmerica Orthopaedics Neurological Surgeon Dr. Kevin M. Jackson, call (708) 237-7200.