May 05, 2021
Spinal vertebrae, or the bones that make up the spine, are cushioned by small, round discs between the vertebrae which act as shock absorbers. These discs have a tough outer layer which surrounds a softer center nucleus. When the nucleus pushes through the tough outer layer and into the spinal canal, the disc become herniated. Because the space of the spinal canal is so limited, disc herniation often places pressure on surrounding nerves causing pain and discomfort which can be severe.
Disc herniation can occur after a single, excessive strain of the back. However, natural aging and the weakening of surrounding ligaments can also lead to disc herniation after a comparatively minor strain of the back. In both cases, poor body mechanics, particularly lifting techniques when moving heavy objects, and continued strain against a particularly heavy object, can lead to herniation.
Patient symptoms can vary greatly with disc herniation, depending on the size and position of the herniation. In some cases, patients may have no symptoms. If the herniation is pressing on a nerve however, the patient may experience symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling and weakness especially at the area of the body to where the nerve travels such as the extremities.
Pressure on the sciatic nerve can cause these symptoms to radiate from the buttock down through the leg and foot; it is often limited to one side of the body.
A herniation in the cervical spine may cause cervical radiculopathy which can cause dull or sharp pain in the neck, between the shoulder blades and down through an arm and hand.
An effective treatment plan often begins with testing and diagnosis. Your physician will likely conduct a physical exam, ask exploratory questions, and order imaging such as an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan to make an effective diagnosis.
In some cases, disc herniation may be treated with anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, and activity modification. In cases where the symptoms effect the patient’s quality of life and conservative treatments are ineffective, surgery may be an effective option.
While each case is different, surgery may include the surgical removal of the herniation and a stabilization of the vertebrae through a small incision over the site of the herniation.