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Herniated Disc

What Is a Herniated Disc?

Herniated Disc

Discs are the rubbery cushions that act as buffers between the bones of your vertebrae. A herniated disc is a common cause of back pain. When a disc herniates, the jellylike center of the disc, known as its nucleus, pushes out through the tough exterior, called the annulus. Herniated discs also may be referred to as ruptured, bulging or slipped discs. While some people with a herniated disc don’t experience pain, for others, the pain can be debilitating.

A herniated disc is one of several possible causes of pain that originates in the spine. When you have back pain, numbness, weakness or other back pain symptoms, it’s imperative that you get an accurate diagnosis. Reach out to the spine experts at Premier Brain & Spine, New Jersey’s top neurosurgery and spine specialists, for all your back pain issues to receive the most effective solutions.

How Do I Know if I Have a Herniated Disc?

A ruptured disc often presses against a nerve, triggering back or neck pain. Pain that develops quickly and worsens with movement is often the first sign that you may have a herniated disc. Other symptoms of a herniated disc that you may experience include:

  • Sciatica, which is intense nerve pain that travels down your leg
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling in your legs or feet
  • Pain focused on one side of your body
  • Cervical radiculopathy, which is caused by nerve compression in your neck that causes neck pain or pain between your shoulder blades

The location of your pain or numbness depends on the location of the slipped disc. Ruptured discs are most common in the lower back, but can occur in any spinal disc. The only way to know for sure if the cause of your symptoms is a bulging disc is by visiting your NJ ortho specialist for a thorough evaluation and diagnostic imaging tests.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

Degenerative disc disease is a condition that causes your spinal discs to become less flexible as you age. It’s one of the most common causes of disc herniation. Over time, your discs lose some water content, making the space between your vertebral bones narrower. This loss of fluid and flexibility makes the discs more prone to rupture with a slight turn or sudden movement. Factors that contribute to disc herniation include:

  • Repetitive movements for a job or hobby
  • Lifting heavy objects improperly
  • Twisting or bending

Herniation usually occurs because of accumulated wear and tear over the course of many years. In rare cases, a physical blow to your back or a fall can cause a slipped disc.

What Are the Risk Factors for Herniating a Disc?

Herniated Disc

A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of many health problems, including disc herniation. Other risk factors that put you at a higher risk of developing a herniated disc include:

  • Genetics
  • Excess body weight that puts added strain on your spinal discs
  • Working in a job or playing sports that require a lot of repetitive physical motions
  • Using improper lifting techniques

Smoking is believed to be a risk factor for rupturing a disc as well. Smoking reduces the oxygen supply to your spinal discs, which may increase the speed of degeneration. Sitting in one position for long periods of time or frequent driving also strains your spine.

When Should I See a Doctor for a Slipped Disc?

Back pain can interfere with the normal activities of daily living. Visit your NJ spine surgery center as soon as possible if:

  • The level of pain you’re experiencing prevents you from going to work
  • Symptoms worsen over time rather than improving
  • You have difficulty walking or standing
  • You’re experiencing a loss of strength or numbness in your arms or legs

Losing bowel or bladder control may be a sign of a rare but serious condition called cauda equina syndrome. Seek medical attention right away if this happens because this condition can lead to permanent paralysis if you delay treatment.

Are There Home Remedies for a Slipped Disc?

If your back pain isn’t severe, your New Jersey orthopedics doctor may recommend simple home care techniques to relieve your discomfort. Some of the most common home remedies include:

  • Applying ice or heat to the affected area
  • Avoiding activities that worsen the pain for a few days
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen, which control the pain of a mild to moderate slipped disc

Bedrest usually isn’t recommended. Stretching is beneficial, and lying in bed can lead to weaker muscles and general stiffness.

How Is a Herniated Disc Treated?

The treatment of a herniated disc depends on the severity of your symptoms. If a conservative approach using ice, heat and over-the-counter medication doesn’t work, your NJ orthopedist may recommend:

  • Muscle relaxants
  • Short-term use of opioids for pain relief
  • A cortisone injection, which reduces inflammation and swelling
  • A customized exercise program with a physical therapist to help strengthen your back and core muscles and to improve circulation, relieve pressure on your nerves and loosen tight muscles

Using a non-surgical approach to treating a slipped disc, most people feel much better in four to six weeks. Surgery at a top-rated spine surgery center like Premier Brain & Spine is an option only when other forms of treatment aren’t successful. Minimally invasive procedures take the pressure off the nerve root. Surgical options include:

  • Laminectomy, which expands the spinal canal by removing all or part of the bone around the disc
  • Discectomy, during which your doctor removes all or part of the herniated disc
  • Disc replacement surgery, when your spine surgeon replaces the degenerated disc with an artificial one

After surgery, you may need to avoid certain movements — such as twisting, bending and lifting — for several weeks to reduce the risk of a repeat herniation. In most cases, you can resume your normal routine in one to three weeks.

Can I Prevent a Herniated Disc?

At the NJ spine center Premier Brain & Spine, you learn that the natural aging process causes your spinal discs to gradually deteriorate. So you may not be able to completely prevent herniation. But there are some things you can do to give yourself the best chance of keeping your spine in good working order, such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight, and shedding the excess pounds if you’re overweight
  • Participating in regular exercise that includes some to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles
  • Avoiding repetitive movements whenever possible
  • Interrupting a sedentary lifestyle with more and more frequent movement

If you have a job that requires sitting all day, take regular breaks. It’s a good idea to get up and walk around every hour if you can. Use good posture when walking, sitting and standing to reduce pressure on spinal discs. When lifting heavy objects, bend your knees and use your leg muscles for strength rather than bending at the waist and relying on your back.

Ignoring a herniated disc leads to long-term chronic pain and even to permanent nerve damage. The doctors at Premier Brain & Spine have successfully treated thousands of patients with ruptured discs, scoliosis, spinal tumors, spinal cord injuries and many other spine-related conditions. Their aim is to help you return to an active lifestyle and a pain-free life as soon as possible. Schedule a consultation today.