herniated disc

How to Know if You Have a Herniated Disc?

How to Know if You Have a Herniated Disc?

Your spine provides your body with proper support and structure, connecting various aspects of the musculoskeletal system. The spine plays an essential role in every activity we perform, including standing, sitting, twisting, and walking. The spine is made up of the backbones, which are commonly known as the vertebrae. Between each vertebra is an intervertebral disc that cushions these bones and absorbs shock from various movements. A herniated disc can result in pain, discomfort, and even limited mobility.

What Is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc, often referred to as spinal disc herniation or a prolapsed disc, is a condition that affects your spinal discs or the rubbery cushions which separate the individual vertebrae of the back. A healthy spinal disc has a nucleus, which is a soft, jellylike center encased in a rubbery exterior known as the annulus. When the nucleus pushes through and tears the annulus, the resulting condition is known as a herniated disc.

A healthy spinal disc helps absorb shock from various activities, like walking, hopping, twisting, or other daily actions. When a disc becomes herniated, it cannot function properly, leading to two vertebrae coming into contact or painfully grinding against one another. While pain and discomfort are common symptoms, some patients may also experience a spinal nerve being pinched or compressed, leading to potential numbness or pain along the affected nerve.

How Painful Is a Herniated Disc?

One of the most common symptoms of a herniated disc is pain or discomfort. Over time, it can lead to sensitive nerves, severe pain, and even nerve compression or damage. In some of the most severe instances, the disc may slip and block nerve impulses in your lower back and legs. How long a herniated disc takes to heal depends on the severity of your symptoms and how soon you seek proper treatment.

One of the most important aspects to consider is what activities you should avoid with a herniated disc. Certain movements can aggravate the symptoms and worsen the overall health of the affected vertebrae and spinal discs. A spinal specialist can help determine the severity of your symptoms and recommend avoiding certain activities to promote spinal healing. In many cases, you should limit or eliminate heavy lifting or intense physical activity until the herniated disc heals.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

In some cases, it may not initially lead to discomfort, pain, or other noticeable symptoms, making it essential that you understand how you get a herniated disc. Without noticeable symptoms, some patients may wonder what it feels like. Spinal discs have very little innervation, meaning many patients do not feel pain until the herniation affects nearby structures, such as nerve roots, muscles, or joints.

Some of the most common risk factors and causes include:

  • Age: One of the leading causes is aging. Over time, the discs experience wear and tear related to old age. As a result, the spinal discs become less flexible and are more prone to rupture or herniate from minor movements. Herniated discs are most common in patients in their third to fifth decade of life.
  • Excess weight: Excess weight can be a risk factor that increases the potential for a prolapsed disc. With excess weight, your spinal column and discs are under greater pressure and stress, leading to a higher risk of injury, spinal compression, and other issues associated with a herniated disc.
  • Disc dehydration: At birth, your spinal discs mainly comprise water. With age, these spinal discs begin to thin and lose this essential water. Dehydrated discs are less effective at absorbing shock and cushioning the vertebrae. Thinner spinal discs can increase the risk of spinal complications and herniation.
  • Genetics: Genetics play a direct role in determining if you are more prone to certain spinal conditions. There is a hereditary tendency for disc degeneration that is directly associated with an increased risk for prolapse. A family history of disc degeneration or herniated discs may point to a potential future herniation.
  • Occupational Hazards: Certain jobs may increase your risk of experiencing a herniated disc. Active, physically demanding jobs often carry a larger risk of spinal problems or certain back conditions. If you regularly work with heavy materials, you may be more likely to develop a prolapsed disc.
  • Repetitive Movements: Repetitive movements can add stress and strain to your back over time. Repetitive movements that may lead to a herniated disc include continuously bending, pulling, lifting, twisting, or pushing. Repeating these movements over a long period of time can cause wear and tear on the discs and increase the possibility of herniation.
  • Smoking: A history of smoking and tobacco use can increase your risk of developing a herniated disc. When you smoke, the oxygen supply to your spinal discs decreases, increasing the likelihood that the disc will degenerate more quickly and may experience other complications.
  • Traumatic Injury: In some cases, a traumatic injury or accident can lead to a herniated spinal disc. If an accident involves stress, tension, or injury to the back, a spinal disc may become dislodged or herniated.

Certain sleeping positions have also been known to increase the arch of the lower back or the neck, leading to worsening pain if the herniation is located in these parts of the spine. Proper support and healthy sleep posture are important elements of getting a good night’s rest. While the ideal sleeping position varies from patient to patient and depends on the location of the herniation, many people experience more comfort when attempting to sleep on their back.

When to See a Doctor for Your Symptoms?

Understanding what a herniated disc looks like and the symptoms it causes can help you determine if you should seek medical attention. A spinal specialist can provide numerous benefits. A medical professional can explain how long it takes for it to heal, and they can recommend potential treatments or lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms. 

If you are experiencing long-term back pain, it is always a good idea to seek medical attention. Patients should see a doctor if symptoms inhibit their ability to perform certain actions or cause a large negative impact on their daily lives.

If you experience severe pain, pain that radiates or travels down the legs and arms, or if you experience prolonged weakness, tingling, or numbness, you should see a doctor to evaluate these symptoms. Fortunately, a spinal specialist can provide treatment suggestions to help alleviate the severity of these symptoms and improve pain. If a person does not seek medical attention for a herniated disc, they run the risk of experiencing potential complications.

How a Doctor Can Determine a Diagnosis?

A proper medical diagnosis is an important aspect of treating a herniated disc. Fortunately, it can heal on its own in some cases. The most effective way to properly determine is to seek professional medical attention. In many cases, a doctor can help determine if you are experiencing it. There are numerous physical and medical tests available to help determine the source of back pain.

Some things a doctor may consider when diagnosing a herniated disc include:

  • Leg Strength: Stretch tests can help determine leg strength and provide useful information for diagnosing a herniated disc. Your physician may ask you to perform straight leg raises. If pain occurs when the leg is raised at certain angles, it can signify a herniated lumbar disc.
  • Walking Mannerisms: Another beneficial test is to monitor a patient’s way of walking and their gait mannerism. Observing how a person walks can help a physician determine if a patient may be walking slowly or favoring one leg due to pain, discomfort, or a limited range of motion. An abnormal gait may be a simple sign of a herniated disc or spinal condition.
  • Touch Sensitivity: Touch sensitivity plays an important role in determining if you may be experiencing symptoms of a herniated disc. Your doctor will evaluate your overall touch sensitivity and decide whether you can feel various light vibrations or touches. A loss of sensation or numbness may indicate symptoms of a herniated disc or nerve compression.
  • Medical Imaging: In some cases, a doctor may want to rule out other complications or sources of pain. Further testing can help pinpoint specific pain areas or aggravated nerves. In some cases, your physician may suggest a medical imaging test, including an x-ray, CT scan, MRI scan, or myelogram.

How to Heal a Herniated Disc?

After being diagnosed, your next question is likely how to cure a herniated disc. There are numerous ways to treat and alleviate painful and uncomfortable symptoms. Learning what to do can help ease painful symptoms, improve a proper range of motion, and enhance your overall quality of life. In most cases, a doctor will recommend non-invasive and non-surgical treatments. Some of the most effective treatments to fix a herniated disc include:

  • Medication: One of the most common ways to fix a herniated disc in the lower back is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, known as NSAIDs. Over-the-counter and prescription medication can improve painful symptoms associated with a herniated disc.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Many patients may wonder what to do about a herniated disc and assume they will only find relief from surgery. Fortunately, there are numerous lifestyle changes you can make to improve the symptoms. Physical exercise and a healthy diet can improve various symptoms of a prolapsed disc. Additionally, a heating pad can also provide soothing relief.
  • Physical Therapy: ⦁ Physical therapy can be a great way to strengthen weakened muscles and promote a healthier back. Certain movements and exercises can strengthen abdominal muscles and ease lower back pain.
  • Spinal Surgery: While non-surgical and non-invasive treatments effectively manage herniated disc treatments, some patients with more severe symptoms may require surgery. Spinal surgery may be needed if a disc fragment lodges itself in the spinal canal and compresses a nerve.
  • Prevention: Learning how to prevent a herniated disc can help you maintain a healthy spine and avoid future injuries. Try to be mindful of proper posture and techniques for safely lifting heavy items.

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