The small and spongy discs that act as the cushions between the vertebrae in your spine also serve as shock absorbers for the spine and help to keep the spine flexible. However, these discs may become damaged by bulging or breaking open causing a condition known as herniated disc. A herniated disc can occur in any part of your spine such as the cervical spine (neck) or the thoracic spine (upper back), but most herniated discs affect the lumbar spine (lower back).
Causes of Herniated Disc
A herniated disc may occur as a result of normal wear and tear as you age when the spinal discs lose some of their water content making them less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing. Another cause of herniated disc may be due to an injury to the spine that may cause tears or cracks in the outer layer of the disc, which forces out the gel inside the disc through the tears or cracks and causes the disc to bulge or break. Some common risk factors associated with the increased risk of a herniated disc include age (more common in middle age between 35 to 45), weight (excessive body weight places extra stress on the discs), and occupation (demanding jobs with repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, or bending increase your risk).
In most cases, a physical exam and medical history review conducted by a doctor is all that is needed to make a diagnosis. If your doctor suspects another condition as the cause or if the doctor needs to see which nerves are affected, the doctor may order tests such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), myelogram, or nerve tests.
Most individuals recover from herniated discs within one to six months with only ten percent of people with herniated disc problems needing surgical intervention as a form of treatment. Over the counter pain medications can help to relieve mild to moderate symptoms, and if your pain persists, the doctor may prescribe narcotics, nerve pain medications, muscle relaxers, or cortisone injections. Physical therapy can also help to minimize the pain of a herniated disc as well as to help to improve the core strength and stability in your back. In severe cases, surgical intervention is needed especially in cases where the symptoms does not improve after six weeks of conservative treatment, a disc fragment lodges in your spinal canal leading to progressive weakness, and the pain significantly interferes with your activities of daily living.