Posts Tagged ‘back herniation’

Back Pain Diaries: Herniated Disc – Signs, Symptoms and Treatment 

Dr. Lisa Foster discusses herniated discs

Dr. Lisa Foster, Emory Clinic

A herniated disc is a common lower back injury, but did you know lower back pain is the number one cause of disability around the world, according to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study. For this blog, we spoke with our own Emory Clinic physician, Dr. Foster, to better understand those rubber like discs that sit between our spinal bones.

Your spine is made up of 26 vertebrae bones. Between them are soft disks filled with gel-like substance. These discs cushion the vertebrae bones and keep them in place. As we get older, the discs tend to degrade. When this happens, the discs lose their ability to cushion the vertebrae bones and this can lead to pain if the back is stressed.

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc, also commonly referred to as a ruptured disc or slipped disc, occurs when a cartilage disc in the spine becomes damaged and moves out of place. Sometimes, it can result in a pinched nerve. You can have a herniated or ruptured disc in any area of your spine but most often it affects the lumbar spine (lower back area).

How Does a Herniated Disc Occur?

When a disk is damaged, the soft rubbery center of the disk squeezes out through a weak point in the hard-outer layer. A disc may be damaged by sports injuries or accidents, repeated strain, a sudden strenuous activity or sometimes, it can happen spontaneously without any specific injury.

What Are the Risk Factors?

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Jobs or tasks that require you to repeatedly lift heavy objects, especially if you are lifting with your back and not your legs
  • Being overweight can add stress on the discs of your lower back
  • Smoking can reduce the amount of oxygen/nutrition reaching your discs to cause more rapid degeneration.

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Back, leg and/or foot pain (sciatica)
  • Numbness or tingling in the leg and/or foot
  • Weakness in the leg and/or foot
  • Loss of control over the bladder or bowels (very rare.) This requires immediate medical attention.

How Do I Prevent a Herniated Disc?

  • Build muscle strength in the core and legs. This stabilizes the spine, increases shock absorption and decreases overall muscle fatigue.
  • Alternate activities to help prevent injury. Warm up before exercising, including stretching.
  • Practice correct posture while you are walking, sitting, standing, lying down or working.
  • Don’t lift with your back; use your thigh muscles to do the lifting.

What Are Herniated Disc Treatment Options?

Each patient’s treatment plan will be different and is customized based on the precise location of the pain within the spine, the severity of pain and the patient’s specific symptoms. For the most part, patients usually start with non-surgical treatment options, such as physical therapy, spinal manipulations, massage therapy and more. A process of trial and error is often necessary to find the right combination of treatments. If a course of non-surgical treatments prove ineffective, surgery may be considered as an option.

 

Did You Know?

Emory Healthcare has a dedicated Orthopaedics and Spine Center, with locations throughout metro Atlanta. To make an appointment, please call 404-778-3350.

View Emory Orthopedics & Spine Center 

 


By Dr. Lisa Foster

Dr. Lisa Foster is a board certified, fellowship trained interventional physiatrist, specializing in non-operative spine care. Dr. Foster has published numerous articles and presented at national conferences in the fields of spine and rehabilitation medicine. Most recently, she was a contributing author for a book chapter on the workup and conservative management of lumbar degenerative disk disease in JL Pinherio-Franco’s Advanced Concepts in Lumbar Degenerative Disk Disease.

 

Could I Be Suffering from a Herniated Disc?

Herniated DiscLower back pain has been found to be the number one cause of disability around the world, according to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study. Though many conditions can cause back pain, a herniated disc is a common cause.

Discs are the soft, rubber-like pads that fit between the bones (vertebrae) of the spinal column and cushion it. The discs allow the back to flex and bend and absorb shock.

Herniated discs, which can also be called slipped or ruptured discs, are caused when all or part of the disc is forced through a weakened part of it, which places pressure on the nearby nerve and/or spinal cord, causing numbness, and most commonly, pain. Herniated discs can occur both in the lumbar spine (lumbar herniated disc) and the cervical spine (cervical herniated disc).

This can happen when the disc moves out of place (herniates) or breaks open (ruptures) due to injury or strain. It is most commonly found to happen in the lower back, but can also affect the neck’s discs, or, even more rarely, the discs in the upper-to-middle back.

Herniated Disc Risk Factors

If you’re not sure if a herniated disc is causing your pain, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons point out a few factors that can put you more at risk:

  • Usually, herniated discs are caused by the natural aging of your spine. When we’re young, our discs have a high water content, making them spongy. When we age, they begin to dry out, becoming weaker and narrowing the spaces between our vertebrae. This is called disc degeneration.
  • Men between 30-50 are more likely to have a herniated disc
  • Jobs or tasks that require you to repeatedly lift heavy objects can put you at risk, especially if you are lifting with your back and not your legs, or if you are twisting while you lift.
  • Being overweight can add stress on the discs of your lower back
  • If you are frequently in the car, staying seated for long periods of time along with the vibrations of the car, can put pressure on your spine and discs
  • Staying sedentary can cause herniated discs
  • Smoking can reduce the amount of oxygen reaching your discs to cause more rapid degeneration

Herniated Disc Symptoms

For most people suffering from a herniated disc, lower back pain is the first symptom. The pain may come and go, but can eventually lead to leg pain, numbness or weakness. These sensations can reach all the way below the knee, to the ankle and foot.

Additionally, the symptoms can be all or one of the following:

  • Back pain
  • Leg and/or foot pain (sciatica)
  • Numbness or tingling in the leg and/or foot
  • Weakness in the leg and/or foot
  • Loss of control over the bladder or bowels (very rare.) This could be a more serious problem known as cauda equina syndrome, which is caused by compression of the spinal nerve roots. This requires immediate medical attention.

If you feel like you may be suffering from a herniated disc, see your orthopedist for a physical examination or MRI scan, so they can make sure that it’s the cause of your back pain. Due to a wide range of non-surgical and surgical treatments available, most patients are free from their symptoms in 3-4 months!

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About Dheera Ananthakrishnan, MD:

Dr. Dheera AnanthakrishnanDr. Ananthakrishnan trained with one of the pioneers of scoliosis surgery, Dr. David Bradford, at the University of California at San Francisco. After completion of her fellowship, Dr. Ananthakrishnan practiced orthopedic and spine surgery for over three years at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2007, she left Seattle to work with Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She then worked as a volunteer consultant at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, before starting her position at Emory University. She maintains an interest in developing-world orthopedics and is currently involved in projects in the Philippines and Malawi.

Dr. Ananthakrishnan’s practice focuses on adult degenerative conditions, including scoliosis. She also treats adolescent spinal disorders as well as tumors and cervical conditions. Dr. Ananthakrishnan started practicing at Emory in 2007.

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