Common Causes and Treatment Options for Herniated Discs
Perhaps the most common cause of a herniated disc revolves around wear and tear on the vertebrae over time; this is known as disc degeneration. As you age, you gradually lose some of the fluid that keeps this part of your body flexible. This drying may eventually lead to small cracks in the discs, causing swollen bulges. Cracks could form due to a relatively minor twist or movement exacerbated by less water in the joint.
A sudden injury may occur when you lift very heavy objects using your back muscles rather than the legs. If you lift heavy objects daily as part of a job, your back muscles may strain too much and cause an injury that makes a disc slip out of place. Increased pressure on the lower back from a twisting, lifting or even sneezing motion could make a disc slip out of place.
Overweight individuals who have weak back muscles may have a greater risk for a herniated disc. When the back supports more weight, the entire spine has more pressure put on it. Weak muscles due to a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to the strain by not having enough muscle tissue to support the added weight.
Repetitive motions, such as those experienced at work or playing sports, may create a herniated disc. Poor lifting habits done over and over again could make your back's support system too weak. Vibrations that affect your back may also cause a disc to slip out of alignment.
Depending on the severity of the herniated disc, your doctor may first recommend nonsurgical treatments for several weeks to see if symptoms improve. Try heat, ice or low-impact exercises to strengthen back muscles. A physical therapist can discuss stretches and movements that could help. Pain medications may reduce swelling. Your doctor could prescribe stronger pain medications or even steroid injections to reduce inflammation.
Approximately one in 10 patients with a herniated disc have surgery, normally when four weeks of nonsurgical treatments have not lessened the pain. A surgeon performs a microsurgical discectomy
Discuss treatment options with your primary care physician after you receive a herniated disc diagnosis. Your doctor then may refer you to a specialist, such as a physical therapist, spinal surgeon or chiropractor, for additional treatments.