Category Archives: Herniated Disc

Disc Herniation

presented-by-spine-universeA cervical (neck) or lumbar (low back) disc herniation is a common cause of pain.  The intervertebral discs; the discs between each vertebral body, work with other parts of the spine to absorb and distribute stress.  Each disc is made up of an annulus fibrosus; a tough tire-like outer band, and the nucleus pulposus; a gel-like inner substance.

A disc herniation occurs when the nucleus pushes through the annular wall.  The nuclear material releases a chemical irritant that sets off a cascade of inflammation, nerve compression, and pain.

Typical symptoms of a cervical or lumbar disc herniation include:

Cervical Disc Herniation Lumbar Disc Herniation
Neck pain Low back pain
Movement may intensify pain Bending, coughing, sneezing, other movement may intensify pain
Dull or sharp pain in the shoulders, upper back Muscle spasm, cramping
Pain spreads (radiates) down into the arms, hands, or fingers (extremities).  Called cervical radiculopathy Sciatica (pain, burning, tingling, numbness that extends into the buttocks and legs)
Tingling, numbness in the shoulders, upper back, or extremities Leg weakness, functional loss

Risk factors
Sudden stress from injury or trauma can cause disc herniation.  Sometimes a disc herniation gradually develops over weeks or months.

Risks you control

  • Do not smoke
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat well; a balanced and healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Practice good posture and body mechanics

Risks beyond your control

  • Growing older
  • Injury or trauma

Talk with your doctor
Sudden pain or pain that is severe, or that becomes chronic or progressive, requires evaluation by your doctor.  Perhaps your doctor has already diagnosed you with a bulging (has not broken through the anular wall) or herniated disc.  If that is the case, he will want to know about any new symptoms, especially weakness, problems with balance or when walking, or bladder or bowel dysfunction.

Your doctor collects and compares information gathered while talking with you about your medical history and past and existing symptoms.  A physical and neurological examination looks for limitations of movement, balance difficulties, and what exacerbates and relieves pain.  During the exam he tests your reflexes, muscle strength, sensations, or other signs of neurologic loss.  Your doctor may order imaging studies such as plain x-ray, CT, or MRI to study and confirm you diagnosis to direct your treatment plan.

Most cases of disc herniation do not require surgery.  Often, one or more non-surgical treatments are very effective at relieving symptoms.  These include:

  • Medications: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain; muscle relaxants to calm spasm; and, occasionally narcotic painkillers.
  • Cold/heat therapy
  • Spinal injections
  • Physical therapy: stretching to increase flexibility, therapeutic exercise to build muscle strength and endurance; posture and importance of maintaining good posture (ergonomics) at rest, work, and during other activities.
  • Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture

Surgery may be recommended if pain cannot be managed, spinal instability develops, or neurologic symptoms develop or progress.  Your doctor will explain why he recommends surgery and the type of procedure involved, including what to expect before and after surgery.

Coping with a Herniated Disc

If you’re one of the millions of Americans with a herniated disc, then you know its painful symptoms. Leg pain, numbness, tingling, muscle spasms – all these can make standing or sitting for prolonged periods a real challenge. Luckily, there are numerous ways you can alleviate or improve your symptoms.

  1. Don’t ignore it. This one goes for guys especially. Men are more likely to ignore a herniated disc because they feel that they should just “tough it out”, no matter what kind of pain they’re in. To better cope with a herniated disc, acknowledge your pain and take the necessary steps to heal.
  2. Rest and relaxation. Get your rest. The body heals faster when you are well-rested. Time, and rest, help resolve the symptoms associated with a herniated disc. Try for at least eight hours a night of uninterrupted sleep.
  3. Exercise, exercise, exercise. There are a host of herniated disc exercises prescribed by doctors and health care professionals around the world. Exercises that increase balance, strength, and flexibility are excellent for improving the pain associated with a herniated disc. Others include spinal extension exercises, which increase the curve of the back away from the herniated disc. Bouncing exercises, in which you bounce up and down to increase oxygen to the discs, are also good for alleviating pain. Our FitBALL is particularly good for this type of exercise.

    FitBALL Exercise Ball from Relax The Back
    Get more oxygen to your discs with bouncing exercises. A FitBALL is particularly good for these type of exercises.
  4. Reduce your stress. Stress makes everything worse, so learn how to relax. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and physical activity all help to reduce stress, clear your mind, and promote healing. Physical activity also releases a hormone called endorphins, which can promote a feeling of well-being.
  5. Ice and heat. Hot and cold therapy can help relieve the painful symptoms of disc herniation, while also reducing the pain from muscle spasms.