Herniated disk

Your backbone or spine is made up of 26 bones that are called as vertebrae. There is a jelly like substance/ soft cushion in between each vertebra along the length of your spinal cord. They help to keep your vertebrae in place, act as shock absorbers, and help you to move your neck and backbone.

When you are young, the disc is soft and elastic. It starts losing its elasticity as you age. This deterioration in the disc makes it vulnerable to injury. However, changes of disc wear and tear cannot be ruled out completely in the young.

A herniated disc is one that slips out of place or ruptures. When there is reduction in the elasticity in your spinal discs they are highly prone to injury and can rupture.

Once rupture happens, a portion of the disc pushes out of its normal boundary and is called as a herniated disc or simply a ruptured/ slipped disc. Also, as the disc becomes flatter, loses elasticity, and weakens with age, the outer part may tear.

The inner part of your disc can push through the tear and press on the spinal nerves beside it. Herniation of the discs in the part of your backbone between the bottom of your ribs and your hips called as your lumbar spine is most common.

You are at an increased chance of getting slipped disc if you are in your 30’s or 40’s. You may develop a herniated disc if you sustain a fall or an accident involving the spine, or if there is repetitive strain on the spine.

You may develop symptoms of herniated disc even with a slight bulge of the disc if the space around your spinal cord and spinal nerves is narrow.

Diagnosis

Your doctor should be able to diagnose if you suffer from disc herniation by doing a physical examination, by testing sensation along your arms/legs, assessing muscle strength, and eliciting reflexes.

An X-ray or a MRI may be ordered by your doctor to aid in the diagnosis of a herniated disc. But you need to know that you there may be signs of disc wear even if you are in your 20’s. And also signs of tear and ageing are bound to be developing as you age. So a MRI of the lumbar spine will normally show abnormalities. Your doctor will therefore, correlate the abnormalities seen in MRI with your symptoms and clinical examination findings before deciding on a treatment plan.

Exercise can help

Exercises can definitely help in reducing your symptoms of pain.

However, it is always better to consult your doctor/ a physical therapist and learn about correct and safe exercises for your back.You may also need to wait till your back hurts less and feels a little stronger after the acute episode before starting on an exercise regimen. Stretching and bending over your back and the sides can help in strengthening your back and stomach muscles.

Maintain your posture

You can help reduce the pressure on your disc by maintaining a good posture by standing up and sitting straight. Always try to bend your knees and hips when you lift something keeping your back straight. You should hold an object close to your body when you carry it. If you have to stand for a long time, try to put one foot on a small stool or box for a while. Similarly when you have to sit for a long time, put your feet on a small stool so your knees are higher than your hips. Avoid sleeping on your stomach. And last but not the least avoid wearing high heeled shoes.

After checking the symptoms and performing the appropriate diagnostic test, the doctor will now suggest and perform one of the herniated disk treatments.

A herniated disk is generally seen to get better with conservative treatment and surgery is not necessary in majority of the cases.

Conservative treatment includes rest and avoiding activity that can aggravate the pain.

Physical therapy  helps stabilize your muscle spine and reduces the risk of injury to the nerves and disc.
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Medicines such as analgesics, steroids, and muscle relaxants may be prescribed by your doctor. Surgical treatment is indicated if you have significant weakness in your lower limbs or a rapid progression of symptoms.

Your doctor will prescribe analgesics for pain relief. It may be advisable for you to take rest for 1 to2 days if the pain is severe.

You may need a painkiller shot in your backbone, if medicines don’t provide relief from pain. However, it is better for you to be active as soon as possible once you experience some pain relief as it would help you get better faster.

Stretching of your spine by a doctor or a chiropractor, physical therapy and losing weight can also help.

Take note that although rest is necessary in acute pain, staying in bed for more than 1 or 2 days can weaken your muscles and worsen your problems.

Walking and other light activity may help in early recovery. Also, you may try using a heating pad on a low or medium setting, a warm shower, for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours, or an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.

Don’t worry as your chances of getting better once diagnosed with slipped disc are fairly good. While you may feel better in about 4 weeks it could also take longer. You may however need to discuss with your doctor on the need for surgery if the pain and numbness is persistent after 4 to 6 weeks.

Symptoms that could be of concern and mandate immediate attention are trouble going to the bathroom, weight loss, pain at night, or more pain or weakness than usual in your backbone.

The herniated disc symptoms are due to the irritation of the nerve/nerves that is/are getting compressed by the herniated disc. A few of the symptoms which are mentioned are:

  • You may suffer from electric shock like pains, tingling and numbness, and weakness in the muscles supplied by these nerves.
  • You may experience these symptoms either down your arms or legs depending on the level of the spinal disc that has herniated. The intensity of your pain depends on how much of the disc is pressing on the nerve.
  • If you experience pain that spreads over the buttocks and goes down the back of one thigh and into the calf affecting either one or both legs it is termed as sciatica.
  • You may feel the pain worsening when you are active, while coughing, sitting, sneezing, driving, and bending forward.
  • Resting for a while, changing positions while standing, holding yourself up with your hands while sitting, and shifting your weight from one side to the other may seem to provide some relief.