Cervical and Lumbar Herniated Discs

What Is a Herniated Disc?

The spinal column is made up of individual bones called vertebra. Each vertebra has a hole in the middle that provides space for the spinal cord and in between the individual bones is a small disc-shaped cushion called an intervertebral disc.

These discs are made of two layers. The nucleus pulposus is the inner layer, and it is made of a squishy, soft substance with the consistency of jelly. The outside layer of the disc is called the annulus fibrosis which is made up of collagen fibers in concentric sheets. Intervertebral discs stabilize the spine by absorbing shocks and vibrations that would otherwise cause damage. The discs also allow the spine to move freely.

Herniation of the Discs

A disc herniation occurs when the outer layer of the disc becomes weakened, allowing the jelly-like inside to rupture through it. The lower back or lumbar spine is the most common area for a herniated disc to occur followed closely by the neck or cervical spine.

A herniated disc can put pressure on the delicate nerves of the spinal cord and cause pain. Other symptoms, such as a tingling sensation, numbness or weakness in the extremities, can also be caused depending on where the herniation is located.

Causes of Disc Herniation

The most common cause of this type of back pain is actually wear and tear on the spine caused by age. The damage to the discs is typically gradual and is the result of water loss in the disc that is a natural part of aging. This process is called disc degeneration.

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Although rare, trauma is another cause of herniated discs, most commonly a motor vehicle accident or slip and fall. Lifting something heavy can also cause a disc herniation if the person uses an improper lifting technique.

Symptoms of Herniated Discs

Symptoms vary depending on the location of the disc and can range from little to no pain to excruciating pain, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling.

If pain is located in the lumbar region, the pain may be more severe in the leg on the affected side, and may include the foot. Weakness in the muscles of the leg is also a common symptom, and may affect mobility.

A disc herniated in the neck may cause pain in the shoulder and/or arm and may include a numbness or tingling sensation in the arm or fingers.

Treatment of Herniated Discs

Medication is typically the first line of treatment and can include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or muscle relaxants.

Alternatively, epidural steroid injections and nerve blocks are another option. Surgery is typically a last resort, but can be an option for herniations that do not respond to other treatments.

If you are suffering with back pain, call Jeffrey M. Epstein for a consultation to get started on your journey towards relief now!