What Are Herniated Discs?
Are you experiencing pain in your lower back? The cause of this pain could be a herniated or bulging disc. In your spine there are cushions between each vertebrae that are made up of a material usually describing as “jelly”. If there is a crack in the exterior of the cushion, and some of the jelly material leaks out, a herniated disc occurs. Plenty of people have herniated discs without knowing, because they are not experiencing pain. Unfortunately, when the herniation puts pressure on a nearby nerve, it can cause pain, numbness, or weakness. Disc herniation usually occurs in the lower back, but can also happen in the neck. If you experiencing this kind of pain, you should see a doctor to determine if a herniated disc is causing it. Fortunately, treatment rarely requires the use of surgery. Discs can usually be treated using non-invasive or minimally invasive techniques.
Who Gets Herniated Discs?
There are certain risk factors that predispose patients to getting herniated discs. One of the risk factors is being overweight or obese. Not being in optimal physical shape puts stress on your spine. Exercising frequently strengthens the muscles in your back and gives the vertebrae more support. Quitting smoking is not just good for your lungs. When you stop smoking your circulation is improved, and makes your body function more effectively. If you work in a job that requires frequent heavy lifting you might also be at risk for developing a herniated disc. Proper lifting technique is essential to preventing all kinds of back problems, including herniated discs. If you have had a prior injury to your back you are also more prone to re-injury. Men over 55 should be particularly aware of these risk factors. Read more tips for preventing herniated discs here.
How Are Herniated Discs Treated?
When dealing with spine issues, it is important to always look to the least invasive procedures first to see if they help your condition. Spinal surgery should only be considered if all other treatments do not improve your symptoms, and you have gotten more than one doctor’s opinion. Surgical procedures have much higher risks than any non-invasive options, which work for the majority of patients. Treatment programs vary by each patient’s medical history and pain level, among other factors, but can include:
- Anti-inflammatory Medication: Doctors can prescribe medicine to manage painful symptoms patients are experiencing. Pain is caused by the bulging disc putting pressure on a nerve, as well as the inflammation of the disc itself. By taking medicines that reduce this inflammation, the nerve irritation has a better chance of resolving on its own. Though this is not always an effective treatment, it might be worthwhile to try, and can be used in tandem with other conservative treatment approaches.
- Changes in Diet and Exercise: As was mentioned briefly in the risk factors section, lifestyle changes can make a large impact on pain levels. By improving your diet and including healthier foods, your body will run more efficiently. It may seem strange to exercise when you are experiencing back pain, but moving around can be helpful. It is important to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program to ensure your health and safety.
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapists use non-invasive techniques to improve back pain caused by herniated discs. Their therapies focus on aligning posture and increasing muscular strength. Depending on what caused your disc to bulge, they can prescribe techniques to prevent it from happening again. Exercises can be maintained at home with limited effort. When the back is strong and flexible it is less prone to injury, and physical therapists show you how to become both of these things.
- Chiropractic Care: Chiropractors are trained in spinal adjustment and manual manipulation techniques that do not require any invasive components. A chiropractor can gently manipulate any part of your spine that is out of alignment and causing discomfort. Gentleness is of the utmost importance to prevent any further injury from taking place. Chiropractors, in a similar way to physical therapists, will prescribe any changes in posture or lifestyle that they think will improve your symptoms.
- Steroid Injections: Sometimes patients experience so much pain that they cannot participate in other facets of therapy that would help them because it is too debilitating. Montvale Heath Associates offer different options for steroid injections depending on your specific need. Caudal steroid injections are used to reduce irritation on the nerve roots around the tailbone. Lumbar epidural steroid injections may help to reduce pain in the lower back caused by inflammation. These are just some of the injection options available for herniated discs. To read more about different injectables click here.
- Spinal Decompression Therapy: This breakthrough technology has been approved by the FDA for helping patients experiencing lower back pain. It works using a spinal decompression system to unload pressure on the vertebrae. It slowly and gently separates the vertebrae from each other, creating a vacuum inside the discs. The vacuum can retract the herniated disc back into the inside of the disc. The entire process takes between six and eight weeks but can provide much-needed relief for patients experiencing pain from herniated discs and other spinal conditions.
If you are experiencing pain associated with a herniated disc and are interested in learning more about any of these minimally invasive treatments, give Montvale Health Sport & Spine a call at 201-391-8282.