The human spine is made up of a series of bones (vertebrae) and sponge-like discs that function as cushions to support the vertebrae. Discs have a hard outer structure that protects the softer, jelly-like material and fluid in the interior. When fluid from inside a disc leaks through as a result of strain or injury, it can result in pain, numbness and weakness in the arm, leg, feet, or shoulders depending on where the disc is located. Also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, bulging discs rarely require surgery and can sometimes be asymptomatic (meaning the patient does not experience pain or noticeable symptoms). A herniated disc can also affect nearby nerves, resulting in pain and numbness.
The most common disc injuries occur in the lower back (lumbar region) with pain typically occurring in the thighs, calves, or buttocks. However they can also occur in the neck (cervical region) with the accompanying pain occurring in the arms and shoulders.
Common Causes of Lumbar and Cervical Disc Injuries
The majority of bulging disc cases are age-related and result from the gradual degeneration that occurs with normal wear and tear. As discs lose fluid, they can become less flexible and more prone to ruptures and strain over time. However, discs can also be injured through forceful and strenuous movements, such as lifting heavy objects and straining and twisting the spine, and as such can affect people of all ages.
There are a few factors that can predispose or increase the likelihood of a spinal disc rupture, including:
- Excess weight – Extra pounds can add pressure and stress to the discs in the lower back.
- Genetics – A predisposition to herniated disks can run in families.
- Occupation – Physically demanding and labor-intensive occupations that require lifting of heavy objects can increase a person’s risk of straining their lower back or even neck.
For more information about bulging disc risk factors and treatment options, please visit the herniated disc page on MedicineNet.com.
When to Seek Medical Attention for a Bulging Disc
While most cases of a herniated disc will not require a microdiscectomy, prolonged pain and numbness and weakness should be brought to the attention of an orthopedic expert. Not sure when to seek treatment? Some of the most common symptoms to look out for include the following:
- Pain which hinders the ability to adequately participate in typical daily activities, like working and sleeping.
- Persistent numbness and weakness in arms or legs
- Shooting or traveling pain in arms or legs
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Pain that intensifies with certain movements (such as coughing or sneezing).
Diagnosis and Treatment
In most cases, a physical exam and medical history can be enough to diagnose a herniated disc. However, additional tests can be ordered to make a definitive diagnosis or to rule out secondary or underlying spinal conditions, and as such a physician may also take an x-ray, CT scan, MRI, Myelogram (special dye injected in spinal fluid to help read pressure points on an x-ray), or nerve tests.
A wide variety of tests will be used by Dr. Khurana and the surgical team at Marina del Rey Hospital in order to provide an accurate and effective diagnosis of your unique treatment. Once completed, our experienced surgical team can create an effective treatment plan for your needs through the use of minimally invasive surgical technology.
Treatment and Recovery
The majority of cases respond to conservative treatments, including rest, avoiding painful and stressful positions, over the counter pain relievers, prescription drugs, and a specific exercise regimen. In rare instances where the injury does not respond to conservative treatments, patients may have to undergo microdiscectomy, sometimes in the form of fusion surgery. Please contact an orthopedic spine surgeon today if you’re suffering from any of the symptoms associated with a herniated disc.
Next, learn about spinal stenosis.