A herniated disk is caused by an issue within those rubbery pieces that cushion the sections of the vertebrae, which together form your spine. The disk is often likened to a rubbery cushion, or sometimes a jelly donut. The soft center of the disk is enclosed within a protective exterior, and when this softer portion or the “jelly” pushes through a tear in the casing, is when a herniated disk occurs.
What Causes a Herniated Disk?
Most commonly, disk herniation is a result of the continuous wear and tear that comes with aging. Spinal disks lose water content as you grow older, causing them to be less flexible and more easily injured during minor upsets. For the most part, a herniated disk is not caused by major injuries or accidents, such as falls.
Are There Risk Factors?
There are a few variables that can increase your risk of suffering a herniated disk. For some, this is a genetic issue that they are predisposed to inherit. Those who work physical jobs with repeated lifting or pulling and pushing motions are more at risk. Finally, excess body weight leads to more stress on those disks in the lower back, which can eventually lead to a herniated disk.
What Are the Symptoms?
The majority of herniated disk injuries stem from the lower back, but some people do experience them in the neck. If you’ve herniated a disk in your lower back, the pain will be most substantial in your thigh and calf muscles and the buttocks. Some patients feel pain in areas of the foot. For neck injuries of this type, the pain will be felt in the shoulder and arm, and shooting pains could be felt when coughing, sneezing, or moving your back.
Should I See a Doctor?
If this type of pain is felt along with numbness, tingling, or overall weakness, or if the pain is traveling down your arms or legs, seek medical attention. Consult with your doctor if the pain is lasting and debilitating.
How Can I Prevent a Herniated Disk?
For many back issues, good posture is key to keeping unnecessary pressure off your spine and disks. Pay attention to how you sit, particularly if you sit for long periods of time. When lifting, lift most of the weight with your legs instead of with your back. Exercise helps in two ways: it keeps your muscles which support the spine strong, and it also helps you maintain a healthy weight, which keeps the pressure on your spine minimized.
How Will a Doctor Treat this Injury?
Depending on the physical exam, any tests run, and your medical history, there are a few different treatment plans your doctor may follow. Medication ranging from over-the-counter options to muscle relaxers, anticonvulsants, or cortisone injections may be prescribed. Should the issue continue longer than a few weeks, physical therapy may be suggested, with positions and exercises that will help minimize the pain and strengthen the appropriate muscles. For a small number of cases, surgery may be necessary. Surgery is likely to be suggested for those whose symptoms do not improve after six weeks, or those who suffer from difficulty standing lack of bowel control, or an accompanying numbness and weakness.
Did You Know?
Your spine has three major portions, the cervical, the thoracic, and the lumbar, from top to bottom, respectively. Disks cushion the vertebrae and connect them to each other, which allows you to bend and twist.
Many patients have had good results using acupuncture, massage, and yoga to address, relieve, and manage back pain. For those suffering chronic back issues, yoga stretches can help strengthen the area and make it less susceptible to injury.