Back pain is one of the most commonly reported types of pain. Most people experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain that doesn’t respond to conventional pain relief techniques, can cause limited mobility and even disability.
Of all known sources of chronic back pain, a herniated disc is the most common.
The spine, or backbone, is made up of 33 small bones, known as the vertebrae. These vertebrae are stacked on top of each other with small discs in between that cushion the vertebrae from each other. These intervertebral discs comprise of 80% water and have a tough outer ring (a.k.a. the annulus) and a soft, gel-like center (a.k.a. the nucleus).
Due to trauma, overuse or age-related wear, the nucleus may push into the outer annulus. In severe cases, the contents may even leak into the spinal canal. Since the spinal canal is narrow, the herniating disc can press against the surrounding nerves of the spinal column. There may be no symptoms for some patients while others may experience severe pain, tingling and numbness.
Signs of Herniated Discs
Most herniated discs are caused due to age-related wear and tear or injury. Being overweight may also lead to disc herniation.
The most common symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Pain – Herniated discs are more common in the cervical region (the neck) or the lumbar region (the low back). Patients experience shooting pain that radiates to the arms or legs, depending upon the location of the herniated disc.
- Sciatica – If the herniated disc lies in the lumbar spine, sciatica is a common symptom. Sciatica is characterized by shooting, burning pain that travels form the lower back down the buttocks or through the backs of the legs.
- Numbness – The nerves affected by the herniated disc can cause localized numbness.
- Tingling – The nerves affected by a herniated disc may also cause localized tingling.
- Weakness – The herniated disc may negatively affect the surrounding muscles and cause weakness.
Herniated Disc Treatments
There are a number of treatments for disc herniation symptoms like pain, tingling, numbness and weakness.
- The most common treatment is rest and physical therapy. Stretching and strengthening exercises can relieve the pressure placed on the spinal nerve roots.
- Pain medications such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may be prescribed to treat herniated disc pain. For those patients, who are experiencing muscle spasms, muscle relaxants may be given.
- When disc pain doesn’t respond to conventional treatments, epidural steroid injections may be prescribed.
- Nerve blocks are a good treatment option if a nerve is being pinched due to the bulging or herniated disc.
- Eventually, surgery may be recommended for chronic pain that hasn’t responded to any of the above treatments.
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