Herniated Disk

By:    Published: March 15, 2012

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You are moving to a new place, and feel a strange sensation in your back when lifting a heavy box. A few days later, there is a numb sensation in your limbs. You may be suffering from a herniated disk, so be sure to read up on the condition while you make an appointment with your doctor.

Definition

A herniated disk is also referred to as a “slipped disk” or “ruptured disk.” Those disks in reference are the rubbery circular pads found between the spaces of your spinal vertebrae, which act as a shock absorber when you bend or curve your back. Each disk has a soft, jelly-like center that cushions the nerves within the spine. When a disk dislocation occurs, the jelly center of the disk is pushed out through a crack in the rubber casing of the disk. At this point, any back movements may pinch the nerve encased in the slipped jelly-like portion of the disk and cause symptoms of a herniated disk.

When a disk is herniated, the affected individual may not feel anything immediately, but will have symptoms a few days later. However, for some, the symptoms will be immediate. Herniated disks can occur anywhere along the spinal column, from the neck to the middle back to the lower back, though the lower back has the most frequent occurrences. Fortunately, most problems that occur with a ruptured disk can be corrected without surgery.

In most cases, the cause of a herniated disk is the result of strenuous physical activity that involves the spinal column or the back. They can range from playing sports, twisting the body or lifting heavy objects. It can happen to someone who is obese as well, due to the pressure placed on the spine. Herniated disks are more common in men over 30 years old.

Be sure to contact a doctor if you think you have a herniated disk. If left untreated, it may cause paralysis or permanent damage to the spinal cord.

Symptoms

Since the location of the herniated disk can vary up and down the spine, symptoms may vary. However, the most common signs of a ruptured disk are:

  • Pain in the arms or legs. If the dislocation is in the cervical spine (neck) area, intense pain will occur in the shoulders and arms. Consequently, if the affected location is in the lumbar spine (buttock) area, the pain will be in the buttocks and legs. Such pain can be intensified during large movements, or even sneezing, and can be characterized as a shooting pain that goes up and down the body.
  • Numbness or tingling. Another common symptom is loss of sensation or a strange tingling sensation in different parts of the body, due to pressure on the nerves in the affected disk.
  • Weakness or loss of muscle control. Since the nerves and muscles are so closely intertwined, impaired muscle movement is also a common symptom. It can also take form of weakened muscles, loss of physical coordination or inability to hold items.

If you are experiencing one or more above symptoms, be sure to take some time and think about any physical strains in the past few days. Sometimes, symptoms of a herniated disk will not appear until a few days after the initial incident. Be sure to see a doctor if you suspect you have a herniated disk.

Treatment

There are two major categories of treatment for a herniated disk, non-surgical and surgical.

  • Non-surgical treatment. More than 90 percent of cases can be treated with non-surgical options. They usually include a combination of rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, and muscle relaxers as deemed needed by the doctor. Cold and hot compresses can also be used for stimulation. In more serious cases, physical therapy and epidural shots may be used for the sake of recovery. Since each person’s case is different from one another, be sure to visit a physician for the optimal combination of non-surgical treatments before employing any self-medication.
  • Surgical treatment. If the herniated disk involves fragmentation or separation of the disk, or immobility of body parts, surgery may be needed. Depending on the status, the doctor may choose to remove the disk completely and insert metal plates for stabilization, or just remove the fragments in question. The procedure is normally outpatient surgery, uses general anesthesia, and requires 2 to 6 weeks for recovery.

Prevention

Here are some tips to help prevent the occurrence of a herniated disk:

  • When lifting heavy items, be sure to lift from the knees instead of the back
  • Utilize back support or braces when needed
  • Practice good posture at all times
  • Exercise to strengthen back muscles and maintain a healthy weight

Be sure to listen to your body for signs and symptoms of a herniated disk. If you suspect that you are suffering from a herniated disk, seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent further complications.

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