As spine health experts, Dr. Harvinder Bedi and our team here at Camelback Spine Care believe that patient education is one of the most important steps in safeguarding your back and neck.
With that in mind, here’s a look at what a herniated disc is and three warning signs that you’ve developed the condition.
Herniated discs at a glance
Your spine is made up of 33 vertebrae that stretch from the base of your skull to your pelvis. The 24 movable discs are separated by 23 intervertebral discs, which are made up of a tough outer layer called the annulus and a soft, jelly-like interior called the nucleus.
When the outer layer herniates (ruptures), the nucleus material can leak out and irritate sensitive nerve roots in the area, which creates the telltale symptoms that we’ll discuss in a minute.
There are many reasons why your disc can herniate, with degenerative disc disease at the head of the list. As you age, the outer layers of your discs lose moisture and become more brittle, leaving them more susceptible to ruptures and compression.
Most herniated discs occur in areas of your spine that enjoy the most movement, namely your cervical spine (neck) and your lumbar spine (lower back).
Warning signs of a herniated disc
The symptoms of a herniated disc are unique, which helps us easily identify the problem. Let’s take a look at the three most common:
1. Pain with certain movements
You’re trying to take a shower and you bend down to scrub your toes, only to be met by searing pain in your lower back. This type of pain, which comes and goes with certain movements, is a classic sign of a herniated disc, as the specific movement places more pressure on your disc, which irritates your nerve(s).
When it comes to pain in your neck, the same characteristic applies — you feel pain with certain movements, such as looking up.
2. Radiating symptoms
When you have a herniated disc in your lower back, it can compress your sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back and down into each of your legs. If you experience pain, numbness, or tingling that radiates down one side of your buttocks and one leg, the odds are good that you have a herniated disc in your lumbar spine.
By the same token, if you have a herniated disc in your neck, you may experience radiculopathy, which are symptoms that radiate down through your shoulder and into your arm and hand. These symptoms include pain, numbness, and tingling.
3. Pain while sitting
If you find that your pain flares after sitting for long periods, this points toward a herniated disc in your lower back. The seated posture places enormous pressure on your lower back, which can exacerbate your herniated disc as it presses up against your nerves.
When to seek treatment for a herniated disc
In most cases, some rest and targeted exercise can help relieve the symptoms of a herniated disc. To help combat the pain, you should take some over-the-counter medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. Ice and heat therapies can also help with your symptoms.
If your symptoms don’t respond to these conservative treatments, you’d do well to come see us. We can prescribe stronger medications or turn to minimally invasive treatments, such as epidural steroid injections or radiofrequency ablation.
Most herniated discs don’t require surgery, but in extreme cases we can perform a lumbar microdiscectomy in your lower back or an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion in your neck.
If you’re struggling with what you think is a herniated disc, please contact one of our offices — in Sun City or Phoenix, Arizona — to get on the road to relief.