How Common are Herniated Discs?

Runner on track grabs lower back in pain

Herniated discs are a very common condition that are also one of the most common reasons for back and leg pain.

In this blog, the team at Specialty Orthopaedics in Harrison, NY explain what you need to know about herniated discs:

What are herniated discs?

Discs are pads that are located between each of the vertebrae that make up your spine. They have a soft, jelly-like interior that’s covered with a harder exterior, and they help keep your vertebrae in place while also serving as shock absorbers.

When a disc is herniated, that means its soft interior has started to protrude through its exterior. In addition to being referred to as a herniated disc, it’s also sometimes called a ruptured or slipped disc.

What causes them?

A herniated disc is often caused by gradual wear and tear and overuse. That’s especially true because as you age, your discs lose some of their water content and become more brittle and likely to split.

This type of injury often occurs if you’re lifting objects without bending at the knee or are twisting while you’re lifting something heavy.

The following risk factors are also associated with herniated discs:

  • Being overweight – puts added stress on your lower back
  • Genetics – a tendency to have them may be inherited
  • Certain occupations – such as those that are physically demanding or involve repetitive activities
  • Driving a lot – being seated in a moving, vibrating car may damage discs
  • Smoking – may reduce the supply of oxygen to your discs and cause the tissue to grind down
  • Lack of exercise – contributes to a lack of flexibility

What are the symptoms of herniated discs?

In some cases, you may not have any symptoms associated with a herniated disc. In others, however, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain – in the spine and possibly also areas, depending on where the herniated disc is located.
  • Numbness or tingling – in other parts of your body
  • Weakness – muscles served by affected nerves can become weak

How is it diagnosed?

In some cases, a doctor’s physical exam will be all that’s needed to diagnose a herniated disc. Scans such as an X-ray or MRI may be performed to rule out any other possible causes for your pain or to determine which nerves are affected.

How are herniated discs treated?

They can be treated with one or more of the following:

  • Rest – avoid bending and lifting to relieve swelling and give your back the chance to heal
  • Ice and heat – whichever works best can be used, or you can alternate between the two
  • Medication – short-term use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Your doctor may also prescribe medications such as narcotics, muscle relaxants, or nerve pain medicines.
  • Physical therapy – can including stretching, aerobics, or massage
  • Injections – an epidural injection of steroids can be injected in the space around your spinal nerve
  • Surgery – isn’t usually needed but is sometimes necessary if your pain doesn’t improve with other forms of treatment. Options include a discectomy (removal of the damaged disc), lumbar laminotomy (removing a small piece of bone from the vertebrae to relieve pressure), spinal fusion (fusing two discs together to keep the bones from moving), and artificial disc surgery (replacing the damaged disc with an artificial one).

If you’re experiencing any symptoms that could indicate you have a herniated disc, make an appointment today with Specialty Orthopaedics of Harrison, NY. We provide comprehensive care and will help you get relief by the least invasive means possible.

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