At some point, we have all heard the term or known someone who has experienced a herniated disc, but what does that mean exactly? The spine is made up of small bones or vertebrae that stack up, in between the vertebrae are cushions or discs.
Discs are soft and have a gelatin like nucleus that is surrounded by a tougher more rubber like shell. When a portion of the nucleus pushes through a tear in the outer shell, this is often referred to as a herniated disc. A herniated disc can occur in any area of the spine, and when it does it can cause numbness and/or pain in the arms or legs.
So now that we know what a herniated disc is, let’s discuss what causes this to happen and how to know if it has happened to you.
Most times a herniated disc occurs in the lower back, but that is not the only place it can happen. The neck is also susceptible to disc herniation as well. Symptoms of a herniated disc vary based on where the is and if it is pressing on a nerve.
Some of the symptoms may include:
- Arm or leg pain – If the herniated disc has happened in the lower back, most likely you will feel pain in the thighs, calves, buttocks, and foot areas. If the disc is herniated in the neck, you will most likely feel the pain in the shoulder or arm. This type of pain can move or shoot to different areas when your body moves in certain positions and may be sharp or have a burning sensation.
- Weakness – Due to the effect a herniated disc has on the nerves, the muscles that utilize those nerves can become weakened, affecting balance or the ability to lift or firmly grip items.
- Numbness or tingling – The effect on the nerves by the discs can also cause numbness or tingling that radiates to those specific areas where the nerves are being pinched.
Though most herniations are a result due to aging or long term wear and tear, there are things that you can do to ease the strain on your spine and risk factors to watch out for. Exercising, good posture, maintaining a healthy weight are just some ways to help prevent a herniated disc.
If you can avoid relying on your back and shoulder muscles to lift heavy objects this can greatly lessen the strain on your spine. Instead, opt for using your legs and thighs and avoid twisting and turning while lifting as well.
There are also some risk factors that you should be aware of that may contribute more to possibly sustaining a herniated disc such as:
- Excess Weight – Excess weight can add extra stress to the disks in your lower back.
- Job – Those who work in a highly physically demanding position will have a higher risk of back problems or injury. Repetitive bending, twisting, lifting, or pulling will drastically increase your risk.
- Genetics – There are some people who simply are more predisposed to having a herniated disc problem due to family history.
- Smoking – Smoking can lessen the supply of oxygen to the spinal disc which can cause them to degenerate more quickly.
While the symptoms are not pleasant, not all who suffer from a herniated disc actually show symptoms, and often do not require any form of surgical procedure and can be treated with simple measures such as stretching, exercise therapy and chiropractic care. Severe situations may require surgery when all else has failed.