Herniated Disc

Definition:
A spinal disc herniation occurs when the soft, inner portion of a spinal disc seeps through its tough exterior, irritating surrounding nerves and tissues. Herniated discs typically develop in the lumbar spine (low back), but they can occur in the thoracic (mid-back) and cervical (neck) spine as well. While not every herniated disc requires treatment, interventional pain care and conservative therapy may be recommended to patients to prevent worsening symptoms. If a herniated disc is left untreated, serious complications can arise such as numbness or weakness that interferes with daily activities, and bladder or bowel dysfunction. Talk to a TriState Pain Institute physician about undergoing treatment for a herniated disc.

Causes:
Herniated discs are typically caused by age-related wear and tear to the body. With age, spinal discs lose their water content, making them increasingly susceptible to tears from minor movements or injuries. Once the spinal disc tears, the jelly-like center pushes through and causes pain, numbness, and weakness in the body. Individuals with occupations that are physically demanding and require frequent, heavy lifting are at risk of spinal degeneration, which can result in herniated discs. Other factors that may lead to spinal disc herniation include excess body weight, trauma, and genetics.

Symptoms:
Minor tears in a spinal disc may produce little to no symptoms, but large tears will generally produce referred pain. More often than not, patients with a herniated disc will experience an intense pain around the affected area. For example, herniated discs in the low back typically produce symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the buttocks, and thighs. Herniated discs in the neck may produce similar symptoms, but in the shoulders and arms. Pain from a herniated disc may fluctuate in severity, location, and duration depending on the extent of damage. Patients who experience neck and back pain that courses throughout the body and is accompanied by any kind of numbness or tingling should seek immediate medical attention.

Treatments:
Conservative therapy is usually the first-line of defense for patients with a herniated disc. This includes over-the-counter pain relievers, avoiding painful positions, and participating in a consistent, but low-impact exercise regimen. If these techniques provide inadequate relief, a TriState Pain Institute physician may recommend steroid injections, nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation, electrical stimulation, or minimally invasive surgery. Rarely, surgery will be necessary for a herniated disc. However, if patients begin to experience numbness, difficulty standing or walking, or a loss of bladder and bowel function, they will likely need to undergo a surgical procedure. 

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