FAQ’s on Herniated Disc
What is a Herniated Disc?
The spinal discs are small, sponge-like sacs of fluid located between each vertebrae of the spine. They function as shock absorbers for the vertebrae, providing a cushion to them during periods of spinal movement. These discs allow the spine the wide range of motion it has by preventing vertebrae from touching while the spine flexes and twists. The fluids contained within the discs provide this cushion, but the fluid can be lost over time.
When a disc has lost enough fluid, the outer wall of the sac can be torn or ruptured during movement. This is called a disc herniation, and is one of the most common spinal injuries to the discs. It is possible for a patient to have a herniated disc and not be aware of it, as not every injured disc will cause the appearance of symptoms. The majority of herniated discs occur in the lower back, but may also occur in both the neck and the upper back.
What are the causes of a Herniated Disc?
The primary cause of disc herniation is loss of internal fluid due to time. As a person ages, fluid is lost until the point of a disc being unable to provide cushion anymore. When these discs lose fluid, they become weak and narrow and much more susceptible to rupturing or tearing. Herniated discs can also occur from direct injury to the spine, which can damage the outside wall of the disc. Damaged exterior walls can lead to the leakage of disc fluid, which will produce similar effects as when fluid is lost due to age.
What are the symptoms of a Herniated Disc?
The exact symptoms a patient will experience will differ based on which area of the spine
the disc is located in. The most common symptom is pain located at the site of the damaged disc and radiating out into the surrounding spinal tissue. Damaged discs in the cervical region can produce feelings of pain and stiffness in the neck, but can also produce weakness or muscular weakness in the arms and hands if a nerve root is affected.
Herniated discs in the lumbar spine will produce similar results, but in the lower back instead of the neck. Herniated discs pose a number of symptoms that differ from a bulging disc, as herniated discs that have ruptured will deflate, robbing the vertebrae of an important support structure. This disc deflation can cause vertebrae to grind against one another during movement, potentially damaging the bone and producing further symptomatic pains.
How is a Herniated Disc diagnosed?
The diagnostic tools that will be used will vary based on which area of the spine the herniated disc is located in as revealed by the patients’ symptoms. If there seems to be nerve damaged in combination with physical pain, patients may be given functionality tests of the afflicted limbs. Diagnosis is achieved through a thorough physical examination combined with the patient’s medical history and a summary of the events leading to the appearance of pain.
Other diagnostic tools include imaging techniques to examine the spine, with X-rays used primarily to check for vertebral damage and to locate the disc and MRIs used to examine the spinal tissue to check for compressed nerves.
The single most useful diagnostic tool that can be used is a discogram. A discogram is the injection of fluid into a disc, where if symptoms are reproduced it can be confirmed that the disc being examined is likely damaged.
What are the treatment options for a Herniated Disc?
The available options for treatment will be based on the severity of the symptoms surrounding the herniated disc. Primary methods of treatment include medication to provide relief for pain and inflammation. In cases where mediation is not enough, nerve blocks can be used to obtain extended relief. Patients who do not respond well to these methods may require surgical correction.