The spinal cord comprises of series of small bones called vertebrae, and in between each bone lies a small, round, pillow-like disc. Discs cushion the spine, act as shock absorbers and hold the vertebrae together. The discs have a tough outer membrane – the annulus, which covers the soft inner contents. However, the annulus can weaken or develop a soft spot due to natural degeneration, traumatic injuries from a car accident, or overuse injuries. When part of the disc nucleus is pushed out of the annulus into the spinal canal, it is a herniated disc. Since the spinal cord has limited space, Atlanta herniated disc can press on nerves, producing intense pain. Although it can occur in any part of the spine, it is common in the lumbar or back region.
Symptoms for herniated discs
Symptoms differ depending on the size of the herniation and where along the spine there is disc bulging. It is possible to have no symptoms, especially if the disc does not press on a nerve. However, if the disc presses on a nerve, symptoms such as pain, numbness, and weakness in muscles served by the nerves can be present. A herniated disc on your lumbar spine causes sciatic pain that originates from your lower back down through your buttocks, thighs, and down one or both legs, while that in the cervical spine causes a sharp pain along the neck radiating down to the arms and hands.
What is the treatment for a herniated disc?
The first line of treatment for a herniated disc uses conservative approaches such as lifestyle modifications, medication, and physical therapy. Your doctor may ask you to avoid movements or physical activities that trigger pain. However, patients are advised to engage in low-level activities as total bed rest can worsen the existing condition. Anti-inflammatory medications such as acetaminophen can help if you have mild to moderate pain. However, if the pain does not reduce or stop altogether, epidural injections may be another option. When administering the medication using injection, your doctor uses x-ray guidance.
Physical therapy involves the use of exercises and specific positions to reduce pain and increase flexibility. Treatment can be combined with muscle relaxants and pain relievers for effectiveness purposes. If your doctor recommends physical therapy, your therapist performs an extensive evaluation and uses your doctor’s diagnosis as a guide to tailor your treatment plan. Examples of approaches your physical therapist uses include hot and cold compressions, electrical muscle stimulation, pelvic traction, massage, stretching, and exercise.
Few people need a surgical procedure as this is usually the last resort after one fails to respond to conservative treatment options such as therapy and medications. Your specialist discusses the surgical options during a consultation to give you an idea of what to expect and understand which method is best for you. As with any other surgical procedure, factors such as age, medical history, and general health are considered. You may need to weigh the benefits of a surgical method against its risks to determine whether it is worthwhile or not. Reports from previous patients show that most experience significant pain relief, but it is not sure that surgery will benefit.
For further questions about herniated discs, consult with your doctor at Polaris Spine and Neurosurgery Center.