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. Additionally, leg pain, spinal canal, and herniated disk are important keywords to include in the discussion.

What Are Some Common Causes of Herniated Discs?

When we suddenly experience pain, we often try to trace back our steps and identify the singular event that could have caused it. Unfortunately, while a herniated disc can be the result of one instance of strain or trauma, it's a natural degeneration of the material in your discs that causes them to lose their cushioning ability over time. In addition, the ligaments that hold each disc and vertebra in place can weaken as you age. This breakdown means that even a small twist or strain, possibly unnoticed, can lead to a herniated disc. This is especially true if you have an occupation or lifestyle that accelerates this wear and tear, such as frequent bending, lifting, and twisting.

Furthermore, a herniated disc can potentially affect the spinal nerves, causing additional symptoms and complications. It is important to understand the impact of spinal nerve involvement in cases of herniated discs.

What Does a Herniated Disc Feel Like?

When you’re trying to decide if your back pain may be due to a herniated lumbar 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  neck 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 disc herniation-- 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 in treating orthopedic conditions, including herniated disks or disc herniation, is to obtain an accurate diagnosis from your orthopedic specialist. During your initial visit, the specialist will conduct a physical examination to identify the source of your pain and assess how you lift your legs while sitting on your back. If this test causes you pain, it is likely that you are dealing 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 non-invasive treatments do not provide the long-term relief you need for back or neck pain, surgical intervention may be necessary. In such cases, theSpine Center of Excellence at OAAis here to support you every step of the way. Our experienced team offers comprehensive, compassionate, and cutting-edge care that targets the source of your pain, including conditions affecting the spine, nerve roots, and more. As specialists in spine conditions, we provide a higher level of treatment compared to general orthopedic practitioners. 

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.