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What is a Herniated Disk? What are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disk?

Overview of Herniated Disk

You may be troubled by back pain that keeps recurring. While the cause may not be too serious and easily treatable, there is a chance of a herniated disk should always be kept in mind, especially when the pain radiates down your leg or along the hand. Such a condition occurs when the central part of a vertebra within your backbone pushes out of alignment and accidentally compresses a nerve. Your posture may be affected considerably due to this, and you may also have trouble moving properly. However, you may remain unaware of this problem as there may be no symptoms initially.

What should you know about a herniated disk?

Each spinal disk has two components with a soft center consisting of a gelatinous mass termed as a nucleus surrounded by a tough external part that is referred to as annulus. The condition where a portion of the nucleus pushes out of the annulus is known as Herniated Disk. There is no particular site associated with this condition. It may occur in any part of the spine resulting in certain symptoms. Many patients do not experience any discomfort and remain asymptomatic with a Herniated Disk . Usually, surgery is not recommended to relieve this problem.

Herniated disk- Symptoms

While a herniated disk can happen at any spot of the spine, it is commonly observed in the lower back region. It may also be found in the neck. The symptom depends on the area of occurrence and may be felt when the disk presses against a nerve. The signs may be restricted to one part of your body. Some of the common symptoms of a herniated disk are as follows:

  • Pain Having a herniated disk in the lower part of the vertebral column can cause pain in the lower limb i.e. anywhere from the thigh to the foot. A herniated disk in the neck will affect one’s shoulder and arm. One may feel the pain shooting along the limb or experience a stab or pain in the affected area. Coughing or sneezing may also increase the intensity of the pain that occurs when you shift your position.  
  • Numbness /Tingling You may feel a tingling sensation in the affected area. The concerned area may become totally numb at times with no sensation in that part of the body.
  • Muscular weakness– Muscle’s functioning deteriorates when the nerves serving that area are affected by a herniated disk. This affects the functioning of your limb, which may lead to stumbling and falling at times. You may also be unable to hold or lift objects when the herniated disk presses against a nerve serving the upper limb.

How is a herniated disk diagnosed?

The doctor will examine you physically by asking you to lie flat on your back. You may also be asked to move your legs and change your posture so that the doctor can evaluate the cause of the pain.

You will have to undergo neurological examination that will check the following:

  • Your reflex actions
  • Muscular strength
  • Your ability to walk
  • Reaction to touch, pin pricks and vibrations

Diagnostic tests may include:

  1. CT (Computerized Tomography) scanmakes use of X-rays to produce a 3-D (3-dimensional) image of your spine. A CT scan can show evidence of ruptured disc.
  2. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is the best noninvasive tool to diagnose slipped disc. An MRI scan makes use of radio-frequency waves and magnetic fields to create an image of the spine, and can show the details of your disc, the annulus (the firm outer layer) and the nucleus (jelly-like substance within). MRI scans can also display evidence of previous injuries that may have healed and other details in the spine that cannot normally be seen on X-ray.
  3. EMG/NCS (Electromyogram and Nerve Conduction Studies) is adiagnostic test that measures the electrical activity in your muscles and nerves. It may find out if there is nerve damage or nerve compression.
  4. Myelogram is aspecial x-ray that uses dye, which is injected into the spinal fluid. This  can identify a ruptured disc. Generally, Myelogram is followed by a CT scan.

Do you need to visit a doctor for a herniated disk?

You may not feel anything amiss if the herniated disk does not put pressure on the nerve. It is advisable to go to a doctor if you are experiencing pain, numbness, or tingling in any of the above-mentioned areas in your body.

Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.

What are the reasons for a herniated disk?

You cannot pin-point the exact reason for a Herniated Disk. Doctors believe that it is caused by the wear and tear of muscles associated with age. The disks between two vertebrae lose their elasticity and become prone to tearing and rupturing with body movements. Something as simple as straining the back may cause the disk to rupture and push through the annulus.

Lifting heavy objects that put strain on the backbone may result in such a condition. Falling from a height or injuring your back due to a physical blow may also cause the disk to herniate.

Are you at the risk of developing a herniated disk?

You need to be careful in making sudden or vigorous movements which involve the use of your back muscles. You need to reduce the following factors to reduce the risk of a herniated disk:

  • Obesity Try to maintain an optimum weight so that there is no additional stress on your lower back muscles.
  • Repetitive physical tasks Refrain from doing repetitive strenuous tasks such as lifting heavy objects, pushing or pulling loads, bending, or twisting the spine .
  • Tobacco consumption If you are a smoker, it is advisable to quit smoking to improve the capacity of your lungs. Tobacco is a common risk factor for contracting numerous diseases, including the possibility of a Herniated Disk.

Herniated disk- Treatment

Doctors recommend conservative treatment and advise to reduce vigorous physical activities. Pain management can help in lessening the symptoms. Some of the accepted modes of care for a herniated disk are as follows:

  • Rest Do not continue to work physically when you have a Herniated Disk. Resting will help the spine to heal with the associated pain receding gradually.
  • Medication Take over-the-counter medicines for pain relief  as advised by your doctor .
  • Injections Your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections that are injected into the area containing spinal nerves.
  • Muscle relaxants Drugs for relaxing the muscles may be prescribed by your doctor. Muscle relaxants  are also prescribed when you have trouble moving properly due to a herniated disk
  • Therapy Many doctors advise physical therapy to reduce the symptoms of a Herniated Disk.
  • Surgery While surgery is not usually recommended, doctors may consider it if traditional methods of pain management and muscle weakness fail. Victims of a car crash may undergo surgical intervention with the intruding part of the disk removed. The vertebrae needs to be fused with the help of a bone graft if the surgeon feels the need to remove the entire disk.

Are there any complications associated with a herniated disk?

The entire spinal cord may be compressed due to a herniated disk. Although it is rare in occurrence, it can impact normal life significantly. You are advised to visit a doctor urgently if you experience any of the following:

  • Severity of symptoms- Pain and numbness in your limbs hampering normal day-to-day activities.
  • Dysfunction of bladder and bowel- You may have incontinence or difficulty with urination and bowel movement on account of Cauda equina syndrome. This causes the spinal nerves at the end of the spinal cord to be compressed due to a herniated disk.
  • Saddle anesthesia- You have no sensation in your inner thighs, back of the legs and the region around the rectum. Specific parts of your body that touch a saddle while riding a horse can become numb.
How to prevent a herniated disk?

There is no sure-shot way of preventing a herniated disk but you can always take the following measures to minimize the risk related to it:

  • Exercise- Exercising provides  support to your spine and strengthens the underlying muscles.
  • Posture- Do not stoop or sit in one place for a long time. Maintain a good posture by keeping your back straight, with the bones perfectly aligned. Use your legs to move things instead of bending and lifting heavy objects.
  • Quit smoking to remain healthy. You may also try to maintain optimum body weight to keep your spine stable.

Conclusion

A herniated disk occurs when a part of the disk between two vertebrae protrudes out of the hard covering. It may be asymptomatic or may press against a spinal nerve causing you to feel pain and weakness. Being unable to lift things or walk properly are manifestations of a herniated disk too. Conservative treatment involves plenty of rest and pain management. Surgery is rarely preferred to overcome the problem.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  1. What happens to the herniated disk eventually?

The protrusion of jelly-like matter has been found to be reabsorbed within 6 months to 1 year. Surprisingly, the bigger herniations result in speedier reabsorption. Patients have been seen to recover completely with traditional treatment 5 to 10 years after being diagnosed.

  1. Is a slipped disk the same as a herniated disk?

Slipped disk is a colloquial term used to describe a herniated disk. However, the disk does not drop down or slip. Instead, the nucleus extrudes out of the outer covering known as the annulus.

Can a chiropractor help to relieve pain from a herniated disk?A chiropractor may make certain adjustments to your spine and help you by the introduction to corrective exercises. Application of alternate cold & heat therapy will help to relieve the pain. The professional may also use electrical, laser, or ultrasound devices as a part of the therapy.

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