A herniated disc occurs when an intervertebral disc becomes damaged or displaced, leading to nerve irritation and lumbar pain. A herniated disc may be caused by degenerative wearing due to aging but also by physical injuries because of incorrect lifting techniques or trauma.
Characteristic symptoms of a herniated disc range from pain to numbness and tingling in the affected area. Treatment for this condition may include physical therapy, lifestyle changes, medication, injections, minimally invasive interventions, or surgery in severe cases.
An untreated herniated disc can develop into a serious health condition that could cause irreversible damage to the spine. Looking for treatment right away may help avoid complications.
The anatomy of the lumbar spine is as follows:
- Vertebrae: This is the movable structure that hugs each intervertebral disc. It is in charge of providing support and protecting the spinal cord.
- Intervertebral discs: These add flexibility to the lumbar spine. They absorb shock when jumping or walking.
- Spinal cord: The nerves located throughout the spinal canal.
- Spinal nerves: These branch off the spinal cord and innervate different lower body parts.
If a herniated disc occurs, the outer area of the intervertebral disc becomes damaged or cracks, and the inner gel-like substance leaks. This causes nerve irritation, pressure, and pain in the lumbar area.
Some symptoms that characterize a herniated disc may also spread to the legs. These include:
- Back pain
- Numbness and tingling in the affected area
- Spinal weakness
An intervertebral disc can become herniated by degenerative causes or external factors. These include:
- Aging degeneration
- Spinal stress due to physical activity
- Improper exercise or lifting techniques
- Spinal injuries or trauma
The risk of developing a herniated disc increases for:
- Older people since the cushion that protects the intervertebral discs wears down
- People whose work involves lifting heavy boxes or tools
- People with an unbalanced diet, drink heavily, or do not exercise - unhealthy habits can eventually weaken the spine, increasing the risk of developing a herniated disc.
During a herniated disc diagnosis, multiple factors may come in handy to provide faster symptom recognition. Your healthcare provider will examine your medical family history to discard any congenital factors contributing to the disease's development.
A physical examination is also done for your lower back area and legs to identify any potential issues. Additionally, imaging studies like X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans can help thoroughly monitor your spinal health.
Once your doctor has examined these evaluations, you will receive a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Treatment for a herniated disc may range from therapies and lifestyle changes to surgical treatments. Choosing the right one will depend on the extent of your spinal damage.
Physical exercises tailored to treat herniated discs can help stretch the lumbar area and increase mobility range, reducing pain and nerve pressure. A professional healthcare provider often provides these exercises, ensuring no risk of injury.
Besides physical therapy, multiple lifestyle modifications can help patients alleviate the symptoms of a herniated disc. Performing low-impact exercises like cycling, walking, and swimming can help to strengthen the muscles around the spine and add flexibility to the lumbar area.
Using an ergonomic chair and keeping the monitor at eye level can help you maintain good posture, reducing pressure and pain in the lumbar area.
It is also important to consider that keeping a healthy weight can significantly improve the state of the spine. Having excess weight could cause an increase in the pressure applied to the spinal nerves, leading to pain in the back and legs.
Eating healthy and cutting out heavy drinking or smoking also contribute to having good spinal health.
If conservative treatments don’t help reduce pain and discomfort in the lumbar area completely, your doctor could recommend the following treatment options:
- Non-opioid medication prescribed by your healthcare professional can assist in reducing spinal inflammation and alleviating nerve compression. Based on the severity of your symptoms, your healthcare provider will devise a personalized medication regimen for you, including varying dosages and methods of administration.
- Steroid injections can aid in decreasing inflammation and alleviating symptoms. These injections are administered close to the spinal nerve region, which sends pain signals to the brain. Utilizing digital imaging, your doctor will accurately position the needle into the nerves responsible for the discomfort. Compared to local anesthetics, steroid injections provide more enduring relief.
Pain management procedures target the nerves that send pain signals into the brain. Combined with physical therapy, this branch of medicine can significantly improve the quality of life since pain is minimized before recovery.
Pain blockage techniques can range from radio waves usage to medical injections like nerve root blocks, facet joint injections, and high-frequency shocks.
Neuromodulation is a medical method that involves changing nerve activity through the application of electrical stimulation. The goal is to obstruct pain signals transmitted to the brain.
For instance, spinal cord stimulation is a therapy that employs electrical pulses to alter nerve activity within the spinal column. By blocking these nerve signals with stimulation, pain is no longer perceived, even though the source of the symptoms persists.
Minimally invasive interventions are outpatient techniques that help relieve pressure on the spinal cord caused by herniated discs. They are a great alternative to surgical procedures since they correct mobility and alleviate pain symptoms without stitches, long recovery time, or general anesthesia.
People who undergo these minimally invasive interventions experience significant pain relief and mobility improvement within a few days. As the name suggests, there is minimal disruption of spinal nerves, enormously reducing procedure-related complications.
A MILD® procedure, for example, uses X-ray guidance to insert a special needle in the lower back area. Using a radiofrequency device, your doctor will remove the bone and ligament excess in your spine, allowing it to release pressure and pain.
Vertiflex is another minimally invasive intervention alternative. It uses a small tube that is inserted into the spine. Then, interspinous spacers are placed between the vertebrae. These spacers help keep the vertebrae in place and reduce the nerve pressure caused by herniated discs.