Herniated Discs

Understanding & Treating A Herniated Disc


When it comes to back pain most of us put on our "doctor hats" and diagnose ourselves with popular terms we've heard such as a slipped disc, a pinched nerve or a herniated disc. This self-diagnosis is more likely based on your level of back pain than your actual symptoms and since many different types of back pain have similar symptoms, how do you know the source of your back pain?

The simple answer is; you don't.

The good news is that if you guess 'herniated disc' as the source of your back pain, chances are good that you're correct. A herniated disc is one of the most common causes of chronic back pain, affecting millions of people from all around the world.

What makes a herniated disc such a chronic problem is that some of the most common treatments for back pain-exercise and stretching-can also worsen the pain. But before you start in on another round of self-diagnosis you should learn a bit more about what a herniated disc is and what you can do to treat the pain.

Understanding Herniated Discs

One of the reasons back problems such as a herniated disc are so difficult to define and diagnose is that the medical community has no standard definition of what a herniated disc is. There are many different terms used to describe what is most commonly known as a herniated disc, including a prolapsed disc, degenerative disc disease and a bulging disc.

The spine is made up of discs that are located between each vertebra. These discs act as a cushion for the vertebra, but due to injury or simply aging, these discs start to weaken which can press on nerve endings. Once the discs begin pressing on a nerve that is usually when pain occurs but you can have a herniated disc and suffer no symptoms at all.

The pain caused by a herniated disc can occur at any point along the spine, but the great majority experience lower back pain. Very few herniated disc sufferers (less than 1%) experience pain in the upper back region.

Now you know how difficult it can be to diagnose a herniated disc, let's find out more about herniated disc symptoms you should note.

Symptoms of Herniated Discs

You might be one of the lucky souls who never experience any pain, discomfort or other symptoms of a herniated disc and if so…good for you. The rest of us however need to pay attention to certain symptoms that can alert us that back pain is something more than a little bit of stiffness due to inactivity.

Keep in mind that if you do have a herniated disc you may experience several, all or none of the following symptoms. If the pain or discomfort persists, see a back pain specialist right away.

  • Radiating pain up or down the back and sometimes down the legs and feet.
  • Numbness in the feet, legs or buttocks area.
  • Muscle weakness when performing everyday tasks such as lifting or bending.
  • Chronic pain with no discernible source.
  • Increased pain during movement and decreasing pain when not in motion.
  • Arm pain, tingling or numbness when the herniated disc is in the middle to upper back region.

Can You Prevent A herniated Disc?

While there is nothing that any of us can do to prevent inevitable aging of the body, there are some things that we can do to reduce the risk of a herniated disc. Disc degeneration will occur in all of us, but not all of them will result in a herniated disc accompanied by nerve pain.

There are things you can to do lessen the pressure placed on the spine, thereby reducing the pressure placed on spinal discs, such as improving your posture if you often find yourself slouched over with hunched shoulders. When your posture is correct-that is to say when your spine is in the proper 'C' curve-your risk of a herniated disc is reduced because the vertebra aren't pushing against the discs.

Exercising regularly has been used as part of back pain prevention and treatment because it not only improves posture (see above) but it can also improve your core strength which increases spinal stability. Another added benefit of exercise? Weight loss! It has been shown that those who are overweight or obese are more susceptible to spinal problems due to the excess weight placing unnecessary pressure on the spine.

Choose core exercises as well as those that focus on stretching the muscles such as yoga or Pilates.

A healthy diet is a great way to maintain a healthy weight and prevent a herniated disc, not because unhealthy foods contribute to back injuries, but because they contribute to weight gain. A healthy diet will give you more energy to maintain an active lifestyle, which will improve the stability you need to reduce your risk of injury.

If you have suffered an injury or trauma to the spine no amount of exercise or proper posture will prevent a herniated disc. In this case you will need to speak with your back specialist to determine the best treatment for a herniated disc, which for many may include surgery, muscle balance therapy or spinal decompression.

Maintaining proper spine health is the best way to keep your likelihood of a herniated disc as low as possible.

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