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What happens when you have a herniated disc?

27th December 2016
What happens when you have a herniated disc?

The bones that form the spine are called vertebrae, and the soft cushions between them are called intervertebral discs. The role of the discs is to absorb shocks between the vertebrae, to allow a certain range of motion in the spine and to support the upper body.

The disc is made of a softer center that looks like a jelly tissue, and a tougher exterior, which protects the interior. When the external “case” becomes damaged and some of the inner material of a disc leaks, the tissue can press against the nerves and irritate them, triggering back pain and pain in the limbs.

When a disc slips out of place or becomes ruptured and the internal content pushes through the tear, it is called a herniated disc, which again can lead to symptoms like nerve irritation, pain and weakness in the affected body area. Most often, the herniated discs appear in the lumbar spine, the lower back region, but they can also affect the cervical spine, in the neck region.

Some people experience no symptoms from herniated discs, so in their case the situation is not that severe and they probably don’t require surgery for correcting the hernia. However in others this issue does trigger symptoms, such as arm or leg pain if the herniated disc is in the lower back, numbness, tingling and weakness.

If a disc in the lumbar spine is affected, one may also experience intense pain in the buttocks, calves, thighs and feet. If the affected disc is in the neck, the pain will be more intense in the shoulders or arms, and may become more severe when you move your spine into certain positions or when you cough or sneeze.

Although some cases solve by themselves, if you experience pain in your neck or back that travels down to your limbs, and is accompanied by the other mentioned symptoms, you should seek medical attention.

The herniation of the discs is most often the result of a gradual wear and tear called disc degeneration, which comes natural with aging. As you grow up, your spinal discs lose some of their water content and flexibility, and become more likely to tear down or to get damaged.

Those who work in jobs that are physically demanding and put a lot of stress on the spine, or involve repetitive movements like lifting, pushing, bending, pulling or twisting are more exposed to disc hernia. But sometimes even lifting a heavy object can cause this issue, if your back muscles are used more than your legs or thighs in that process.

Being overweight can cause extra stress on the spinal discs and favor the damaging of the tissues, leading to hernia. Less often, falls and back injuries can cause herniated discs. If the disc compresses the lower part of the spinal cord, it can lead to serious complications, such as permanent weakness or paralysis.

If you notice that your symptoms become worse in time, and the pain, numbness and weakness increase, or if you begin to have difficulties when urinating, or if you lose sensation in the affected areas – buttocks, thighs, limbs, then you need to contact a doctor right away.

Depending on how severe the symptoms are, you may be recommended treatments like medications for relaxing the muscles, anti-inflammation or pain medication, physical therapy or surgical procedures.

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