Most of us will experience some type of back pain in our lifetime. Whether we lifted something that was too heavy or moved the wrong way, having a pain in your back is something that is very common. While a typical backache or back pain usually goes away in a couple of days, there are other back conditions that take longer to subside and require more treatment. One of these conditions is a herniated disc. The name alone sounds painful and the condition lives up to it. However, treatment for herniated discs isn’t as scary as it sounds.
If you are suffering from a herniated disc you can attest to the fact that the pain can be debilitating at times. Perhaps you have not been diagnosed but suspect you have a herniated disc and are wondering about treatment for it.
Let’s take a look at herniated discs, what causes them, what symptoms to look out for and treatment for herniated discs.
What is a herniated disc?
Discs in your back act as shock absorbers for the many activities we do. When those discs wear out, the impact of our activities is no longer shielded as well from our bodies, causing back pain such as a herniated disc.
A herniated disc, or slipped disc, as it is also called, occurs when parts of the inner jelly-like layer begin to seep out and starts pushing through the hard part of the disc. When this happens, increased pressure is placed on the nerves, causing pain and much discomfort in many patients.
One of the interesting things about a herniated disc is that some patients may not experience any pain. Some may not even realize they have one. This is a rare occurrence, but still one worth mentioning.
What causes a herniated disc?
A herniated disc is usually a condition that happens over time. Very rarely is it due to a fall or trauma.
A herniated disc is usually associated with age because as we get older our spinal discs lose some of their water content. This leads to them being less flexible and more prone to tearing.
Heavy lifting over time or a twist in the wrong direction could lead to a herniated disc. When people put all the weight in their back when lifting a heavy object rather than their leg and thigh muscles, a herniated disc may occur.
Other possible causes of a herniated disc include:
- Being Overweight. The stress of extra weight on the body can put added strain on the spinal cord, leading to a herniated disc.
- Tobacco Use. When you smoke you inhibit circulation throughout the body. This means essential nutrients may not be getting to where they need to go, including to the spine. Nicotine also includes many toxins that affect many parts of the body.
- Genetics. If someone in your family had a herniated disc, there is a better chance of you developing one as well.
What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?
Although some people may not feel the symptoms of a herniated disc, there are many others who do. Many herniated discs are felt in the lower spine rather than the upper spine. The most common symptoms include:
Arm or leg pain. If you have a herniated disc in your lower back you’ll feel intense pain through your thigh and calf and in your buttocks. The pain may even travel down into your foot. If the herniated disc is in your neck, you’ll feel the pain in your shoulder and arm.
Numbness or tingling. A herniated disc can lead to numbness and tingling in the parts of the body where the affected nerves are located.
Muscle Weakness. Muscles that are connected to the affected nerves tend to weaken. This can cause you to have trouble lifting objects and holding them and can also lead you to stumble.
If you begin to notice any of these symptoms, call your doctor to schedule an appointment. During your visit, your doctor will conduct a physical exam. This will likely consist of you lying down flat and moving your legs so the doctor can see where the pain is coming from. He or she will also feel your back for any tenderness.
A neurological test may also be done to examine reflexes, muscle strength, ability to walk, as well as ability to feel light touches. Both a physical and neurological exam should be enough to confirm a herniated disc diagnosis. Sometimes a doctor will also order imaging, like an MRI, to see where the herniated disc is actually located and what nerves may be impacted.
What is the treatment for herniated discs?
Once a herniated disc is diagnosed, treatment for a herniated disc can begin. The goal is to reduce pain. Many times it is a case of trial and error to see which treatments work best since all patients will react differently.
Treatment for herniated discs can include:
Over-the-counter pain medications. If those do not work, he may prescribe stronger medications such as narcotics or muscle relaxers.
Heat therapy. This can help to ease strained muscles.
Physical therapy. This type of therapy will include exercises that can strengthen your back while also reducing pain. This type of natural treatment is often recommended because a professional can craft an exercise program that will help you get stronger while alleviating the pain.