What Is A Herniated Disc?
Back pain is frequently triggered by one of three disc conditions: a disc herniation, a disc bulge, or spinal stenosis. We explain what a herniated disc is and how it occurs.
The upper spine is a series of 24 bones, or vertebrae, stacked together between cushioning discs of cartilage. Two kinds of cartilage together in each disc act as shock absorbers: the nucleus pulposus is the soft, jelly-like center of the disc, and is surrounded by a tough flexible ring of cartilage called the annulus fibrosus. When the inner cartilage pushes against—and sometimes breaks through—the outer ring, the disc herniates. This article focuses on herniated disc risk factors, as well as giving the basics of the condition and treatment options.
Herniated disc risk factors
This disc condition occurs most frequently in the discs cushioning the five vertebrae in the lower back, or lumbar spine. It can be the result of natural aging and wear and tear over time, or can be caused by a sudden injury. Knowing the herniated disc risk factors can help you to avoid a herniation.
- Men between the ages of 30 and 50 are more likely than women to have a herniated disc.
- Improper lifting with your back muscles also increases the risk of disc damage. Lift heavy objects with your leg muscles, not your back muscles, and don’t twist your back as you lift.
- Excess weight adds to the stress on the discs that cushion the lower back.
- Repetitive lifting, bending, twisting, and pulling can strain the lower back. If your job is physically demanding, you can protect your back by using safe physical techniques to perform repetitive activities.
- Sedentary habits can put pressure on the lower spine. If you sit or drive for long periods of time, try to build regular periods of exercise into your day.
- Smoking reduces the supply of oxygen to disc tissues, and may cause them to degenerate more quickly.
Is it a painful condition?
A herniated disc does not always cause pain, but when it does, the type of pain can vary depending on the stage of the herniation. While the nucleus pulposus is putting pressure on the outer ring of cartilage, it may cause lower back pain. When and if the nucleus breaks through the outer cartilage, lower back pain can improve. However, at this point leg pain with numbness or leg weakness may increase if the jelly-like nucleus presses against or inflames the spinal nerves.
Herniated disc treatment options
Summit Orthopedics is home to the area’s top spine specialists for herniated disc treatment. A complete medical history, physical examination, and an MRI scan are required to confirm a herniation diagnosis. Usually, disc pain will slowly improve over several weeks. Our spine team can help with a number of conservative treatments, including physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and injections. For the small number of patients who do not experience relief after a period of time, fellowship-trained spine surgeons are here to consult with you and discuss appropriate surgical options.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise
Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
Spine related resources
- Watch the video for more on the difference between bulging and herniated discs
- Check out additional information on Summit’s approach to spine care
- See Summit’s treatment options for neck, back, and spine care
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