Herniated Discs (Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatment Options)

Context:

The spine is comprised of 23 vertebral discs. These discs are flexible and rubbery cushions that support the bones (or vertebrae) in the spine. Each disc is comprised of a thick and fibrous outer ring of cartilage called the “annulus fibrosus,” as well as a soft, inner gel-like substance, called the “nucleus pulposus.”

Herniated Discs:

A disc “herniates” or ruptures when the soft center of the disc (nucleus pulposus,) pushes through the outer wall (annulus fibrosus) and toward the spinal canal. This phenomena can put significant pressure on nerve roots in the spine. The spinal nerves are extremely sensitive and so even the slightest amount of pressure can cause pain, numbness, and/or weakening in one’s legs.

Causes/Risk Factors:

Some of the most common causes of herniated discs include:

  1. Age-related weakening of the spinal discs - (disc degeneration)
  2. Traumatic injuries – sudden stress placed on the discs.
  3. Excessive weight – being overweight can put stress on the discs.
  4. Genetics – some people are predisposed to developing a herniated disc.

Symptoms:

While symptoms of a herniated disc may vary depending on the location and severity of the rupture, some of the most common symptoms include:

  1. Pain, numbness, and weakness in the buttocks, legs and feet – If the herniation occurs in the lower back.
  2. Pain, numbness, and weakness in the shoulders, arms, and hands - Herniated discs can also occur in the neck, in which case these symptoms may arise.

Treatment Options:

Treatment options for a herniated disc also depend on location and severity of the rupture, but the most common treatment options include:

  1. Anti-inflammatory medications
  2. Muscle relaxers
  3. Physical therapy
  4. Epidural steroid injections
  5. Surgery

Misconception:

Many people believe that surgery is ALWAYS necessary in order to treat a herniated disc, when in actuality, only a small percentage of people with herniated discs will ever need surgery.

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