Also called a slipped or ruptured disk, a herniated disk refers to an issue with one of the rubbery cushions (or disks) between the vertebrae that make up your spine. Vertebrae are individual bones that stack up on top of each other to make the spine and create a canal to house the spinal cord. In between each vertebra is a disk with a tough exterior (called the annulus fibrosis) and a softer center (the nucleus pulposus), a little like a jelly donut. When a herniated disk occurs some of the softer “jelly” pushes out through a crack in the outer exterior and may inflame or put pressure on the spinal nerves.
There are those who have disk herniation, but have no pain or other symptoms involved. This can be a challenge for doctors to determine whether a disk herniation is the source of pain for certain patients. Typical symptoms for disk herniation depend on the location on the spine, although most occur in the lower back and sometimes in your neck. Symptoms may involve arm or leg pain, numbness or tingling, weakness, leg/foot pain (sciatica), and very rarely loss of bowel or bladder control.
Disk degeneration, or the gradual, age-related wear and tear, is most often the cause of disk herniation. At a young age our disks have a high water content, which dries out and weakens as we get older. Because of this the vertebrae of the spine becomes less flexible and more susceptible to tearing or rupturing. Occasionally using your back to lift heavy objects, instead of your legs may lead to a herniated disk, but rarely a fall or blow to the back will cause disk herniation. Some of the risk factors include:
- Age and Gender (more common in men and those between 35-45)
- Weight (excess body weight can cause stress on the disks)
- People with physically demanding jobs
- Improper lifting (such as lifting with your back instead of your legs)
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Smoking (lessons oxygen supply to disks and can cause more rapid degeneration)
- Frequent driving (seated for long periods plus vibrations of the car puts pressure on the spine and disks)
Initial treatment usually involves periods of rest with medications for pain. Physical therapy is then recommended to show you proper positions and exercises to minimize the pain and progress to a core strengthening and stability program to help protect your back for the future. Physical therapists may recommend or use modalities in their treatment process such as heat/ice, traction, ultrasound, and/or electrical stimulation. They will also teach you how to properly lift, dress, walk and perform other daily activities. Only a small number of people will eventually need surgery and is usually suggested only after conservative treatment fails, typically after a period of six weeks. Physical therapy may again be recommended after surgery to return flexibility for the back and legs and increase core strength.
We treat patients with a herniated disk in the Clermont 34711 area!