A herniated disc occurs when one of the small spongy discs which cushion the individual vertebrae in your spine ruptures. The purpose of these discs is to act as a form of shock absorber for your spine and keep you flexible. However, upon rupturing they can lead to a great deal of pain. The discs rupture due to a variety of reasons. It’s important to understand that the discs are designed much like a jelly-filled doughnut with a sturdy shell and a soft core. If they rupture, the soft middle portion of the discs bursts out of the side of the disc. Sometimes, the ruptured disc can end up pressing up against a spinal nerve causing severe pain, numbness, and weakness.
A herniated disc (sometimes referred to as a pinched nerve, a bulging disc, or a slipped disc) can be caused by many factors. Commonly, a herniated disc simply ends up being a result of the natural wear and tear on your spinal discs as you age. As individuals get older, their spinal discs become drier and less flexible. This makes them much more susceptible to rupturing.
Another common cause is a spine injury. An injury to your spine may cause very small cracks or tears in the exterior of a spinal disc. Over time, the thick gel inside the disc can be pushed out through this crack due to the normal pressure your spinal discs are routinely subjected to when they hold up your body weight. As the gel pushes out, the crack can get bigger and your disc may bulge or even break open.
If the bulging disc is not pressing up against a nerve it’s possible to only experience mild back pain or no pain at all. Other times, you may experience severe pain. Most commonly, a herniated disc occurs in a lumbar vertebra in the lower back and is associated with lower back pain, buttocks pain, and leg pain. Sciatica is also commonly the result of a herniated disc.
Your back pain doctor will likely suggest exercises that you should do. Typically a herniated disc gets better in a few weeks or months. You should rest if your pain is severe and try using a heating pad to numb the pain. Also, ask your doctor about prescribing pain relievers. About 10% of individuals who have a herniated disc will end up requiring surgery. That’s why it’s important to speak with a back pain physician early in order to start taking the first steps.
If you are suffering from back pain caused by a herniated disc, or you are unsure what the cause of your back pain is, book an appointment with Garden State Pain Control board-certified back pain physicians.