As you may already know, the vertebrae in our spine is cushioned by small discs. The discs are, of course, round and flat, and they’re covered with a tough layer of something called nucleus. The discs are located between each vertebra and their purpose is to absorb shock so that the spinal bones are protected.
Herniated discs are fragments or tears in the nucleus of the disc, causing the nucleus to be pushed into the spinal canal. This is often a sign of degeneration of the disc itself. As you can imagine, there’s little space available in the spinal canal, which means that the displacements cause the disc to press on the spinal nerves, causing what can be severe pain.
Because the discs are found between every vertebra, herniated discs can occur in any part of the spine, but they’re most common in the lower back and the neck.
Herniated Disc Causes
The main cause of herniated discs is excessive strain or trauma. However, discs also degenerate naturally with age as the ligaments begin to weaken. This makes it common among the elderly to sustain slipped discs or herniated discs, especially in relation to a younger demographic. A genetic predisposition to herniated discs is also possible, making some people more vulnerable to disc herniations than others.
Herniated Disc Symptoms
Herniated disc symptoms may vary according to the position of the herniated disc and the size of the injury. If there’s no pressure on any nerve, the patient can experience low back pain or no pain at all. If the herniated disc is pressing on a nerve, the patient can feel pain, numbness or weakness. In general, herniated discs are followed by low back pain, whether that’s consistent or intermittent.
Herniated Disc Diagnosis
A neurosurgeon will be able to diagnose your herniated disc by looking at your medical history, symptoms, by performing a physical examination, and also through certain tests, including X-rays, Computer Tomography Scan, also known as a CAT or CT scan, an MRI, myelogram, and electromyogram or Never Conduction Studies.
Herniated Disc Treatment
Herniated discs can be treated non-surgically or surgically, depending on the severity of the injury. Non-surgical treatment includes pain medication, rest and avoiding any strenuous activity, and physical therapy.
If the pain is too great to handle, an Epidural Steroid Injection can be considered if pain medication and rest is not making a great difference.
When all else fails, surgical treatment includes lumbar microdiscectomy, which is a procedure where the herniated part of the disc and any other fragments that are pushing on the spinal nerve are removed.
This procedure involves the use of a surgical microscope and micro-surgical techniques to reach the lumbar spine. The microscope is used to magnify and illuminate the area, and in these cases only a small portion of the herniated disc is removed.