Herniated discs are an extremely common spinal ailment among people ages 35 and older. In fact, studies show that between 5-20 patients out of every 1000 are diagnosed with back pain resulting from a herniated disc annually. You’ve probably heard the term before, or may even know someone who has needed treatment for one. But what exactly is a herniated disc?

At OAA Orthopedic Specialists, our board-certified, fellowship-trained spine specialists want their patients to understand the source of their pain and feel confident that pain relief is possible in their future. Read more to learn all about what causes herniated discs, and how our orthopedic spine specialists can help:

What is a Herniated Disc?

A “disc” is one of many elastic cushions that rest between the vertebrae that make up your spine. These discs have two main parts: a soft center known as the nucleus, and a rubbery protective casing called the annulus. A herniated disc is a spinal ailment that occurs when the annulus of one of your discs tears, allowing pieces of the nucleus to push through. That’s why this condition is sometimes known as a “slipped” or “ruptured” disc in place of the term “herniated.” 

Once a disc has become herniated, its unnatural shape can cause it to press against one of the many nerves located in and around your spine. This irritation is what causes symptoms of pain and loss of sensation in your arms and legs. 

What Are Some Common Causes of Herniated Discs?

When we’re suddenly in pain, we often retrace our steps and think about which singular event could have caused something like this to happen. Unfortunately, while a herniated disc could be the result of one instance of strain or trauma, it’s a fact of your spine that the material of which your discs are made will degenerate naturally and lose their cushioning ability with age. Additionally, the ligaments that work to keep each disc and vertebra in place can also weaken as you get older. This breakdown means that even a small twist or strain -- maybe one you didn’t even notice -- can result in a herniated disc. This is especially true if you have an occupation or lifestyle that accelerates this wear and tear, such as one that requires frequent bending, lifting and twisting. 

What Does a Herniated Disc Feel Like?

When you’re trying to decide if your back pain may be due to a herniated disc, it’s important to consider the exact location of your symptoms. All of the discs in your spine have the potential to become herniated; however, the sharp, burning pain associated with a herniated disc typically occurs in the lower half of your backbone just as you reach your hips. This portion of your back is known as the lumbar spine, and pain in this area can also affect your thighs, calves, buttocks, and even feet. If your herniated disc has affected your spine in a higher region, such as the neck, you may feel this pain in your shoulder and arm. 

Many patients also report numbness or a tingling sensation in place of pain, and you may feel that certain muscles -- which rely on nerves that may have been affected by your herniated disc -- have become weaker and unable to hold and lift things as they once did. This can affect your arms and legs, as well as your back muscles where the disc is located. If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, schedule an appointment with an orthopedic spine specialist as soon as you can, as it’s quite likely that you’re living with a herniated disc. 

What’s the Best Treatment for a Herniated Disc?

The first step toward treatment of any orthopedic condition, including a herniated disc, is receiving an accurate diagnosis from your orthopedic specialist. During your initial visit, your specialist will perform a physical exam during which they’ll seek out the source of your pain and observe the way you lift your legs while sitting on your back. If this test is painful for you, you’re most likely living with a herniated disc. 

Fortunately, many herniated discs just need to be allowed to heal on their own, allowing for plenty of non-invasive, non-surgical treatment options. The most common of these options include:

  • Chiropractic care
  • Medication for pain and inflammation relief
  • Physical therapy
  • Ice and heat therapy for pain and inflammation relief
  • Epidural injections for pain relief

If these non-invasive options don’t give you the long-term relief you need, you may need to move on to surgical intervention. If this is the case for you, the Spine Center of Excellence at OAA is here to help at each step. We have the experience to provide you with comprehensive, compassionate and cutting-edge care that seeks to eliminate your back pain at the source. Our team is highly specialized in treating conditions of the spine -- because we treat spine conditions every day, we have the knowledge and expertise to give you a higher level of treatment than a general orthopedic practitioner!

If you’re struggling with back pain due to a herniated disc, the experienced, compassionate, specialized physicians at OAA will work with you to determine the right treatment plan to help you make a full recovery. If you’re ready to start living pain-free, schedule an appointment with us today.