Could You Have A Herniated Disc?
More than 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point. Most fear the worst, that there is a severe issue, like a herniated disc. However, herniated or slipped discs are rare, with only 1-3% of patients developing the injury. Intervertebral discs sit between each vertebra, serving as shock absorbers, and helping with flexibility. Sometimes, part of the disc can slip out of place, causing pain and discomfort on surrounding nerves.
What’s behind your herniated disc?
As a person ages, the discs degenerate, losing elasticity and water content. These issues can result in a herniated, bulged, slipped, or ruptured disc. An injury or sudden twist can cause a slipped disc, for instance, while playing sports. Herniated discs generally happen in the lower back but can also occur in the neck. The injury also causes specific signs, especially if the disc is already pressing on a spinal nerve. Here are 3 common signals to look out for.
1. Sitting is a pain
Sitting seems like a simple task, but long hours on a chair can affect the lower spine and muscles. With a herniated disc, particularly in the lumbar region, sitting feels painful and even difficult. Sitting can cause the herniated disc to shift slightly forward, causing pain. If sitting after 30 minutes causes severe pain and discomfort, get checked out by a doctor.
2. A sharp or burning pain in the leg or arm
What does a disc in the spine have to do with the leg or the arm? Nerves branch off from the spine to different parts of the body like the arms and legs. A herniated disc can press on these nerves. For instance, pain in the buttocks, thigh, and calf is known as sciatica and can originate from a herniated disc. Nerve pain in the neck, shoulder, and arm can also happen due to a herniated disc.
3. Feelings of numbness
Since the herniated disc also tends to affect the nerves, there could be signs of numbness or tingling. Based on the location of the herniated disc, numbness can happen in the lower back, neck, shoulders, arms, or legs. The numbness occurs on one side of the body and can get worse with certain activities.
Relief is possible
Don’t ignore these 3 signs. Make sure to see a doctor immediately. The doctor can perform various tests to confirm the herniated disc, including an x-ray or MRI. There is a wide range of treatment options available for a herniated disc, from conservative to surgical. The doctor will typically recommend treatment non-surgical treatment first, depending on the level of discomfort or pain.
Start with physical treatment and lifestyle changes
If the pain is still pretty mild, some simple treatment options can make an immediate impact. For instance, cold packs can help relieve pain and lessen inflammation. Heating pads can also help provide relief and comfort. With exercise and simple lifestyle changes, patients can effectively manage herniated discs. Low-impact exercises, dietary changes, reducing smoking and alcohol can all help. Avoid excessive bed rest as this can worsen symptoms.
Turning to medication
If home remedies fail, try over-the-counter NSAIDs, which can help with inflammation. The doctor can prescribe stronger NSAIDs or opioids, though these should be used with caution. If the pain persists, a patient might need a corticosteroid injection. These provide medium to long-term relief. Make sure to relay any side effects or dependency concerns to the doctor.
Therapy and surgery
Physical therapists can also help alleviate pain by teaching patients exercises or simple daily stretches. This movement relieves the tension experienced by the pressed disc and strengthens the surrounding muscles to support the spine. If, after several months, the symptoms do not improve, a doctor might recommend surgery. Common surgeries for a herniated disc include discectomy, laminectomy, or spinal fusions.
Take the signs seriously
Anyone experiencing these 3 signs should visit a doctor to confirm if there is indeed a herniated disc. Take the signs seriously but don’t panic. Herniated discs are treatable. Once confirmed, there are surgical and non-surgical options available. Start with simple stretches, light exercises, and an anti-inflammatory diet while following the guidelines from the doctor.