Time Heals All Wounds, but Not Herniated Discs
It’s called both a disc and a disk. And it is even defined the same in most dictionaries. It can be slipped, ruptured, bulging, prolapsed and compressed, but our preference is to label it herniated— a herniated disc. It is often very painful, with relief sought by surgery, medication, chiropractic physical therapy and even acupuncture. At Montvale Health Sport + Spine we offer a customized treatment plan with an emphasis on noninvasive.
Detection of a herniated disc may come about in various ways, but the most common and reliable are via a neurological examination or MRI imaging, CT Scan or other procedures. Usually, a physician will make an accurate diagnosis by a combination of medical history and a physical exam. Typical elements of such an exam are testing of muscle strength, reflexes, walking pattern and sensitivity to pressure, vibration or touch.
Before you get to a diagnosis, there are a number of symptoms — some surprising— that should send you to a physician or a specialist. Although associated with lower back pain that may extend deep into the buttocks and down the leg, it’s all about where the herniated disc is located. It is possible, for instance, that a shooting pain in the calf or foot is a symptom of a herniated disc low on the back. Since the discs of the spine run from your neck to the lumbar (lower back) region, shoulder and arm pain may be a symptom of a herniated disc at or just below the neck. Coughing or sneezing may send jolts of pain anywhere on your body.
Other symptoms include numbness or muscle weakness, causing you to stumble when walking or struggle when lifting or holding items.
Aging Greatest Risk for Herniated Disc
A herniated disc tends to evolve through years of wear and is therefore age-related. Among the most common factors behind herniated discs are an inactive lifestyle, overweight, sitting for extended periods of time and a sudden and dramatic intensity in exercise and activity rather that working gradually up to that level. Smoking is often cited as a risk factor because it weakens your immune system and transitions into a sedentary lifestyle.
Discs are often described as the shock absorbers of the spine, because they are flexible and thickly soft inside with a hard, protective barrier around them. However, many of those age-related factors transform those shock absorbers into shocks of pain when the barrier dries out, cracking and rupturing, thereby allowing the substance to leak out and intrude into the spinal nerves, harbingers of pain.
Although herniated discs may occur high, low or in the middle of the spine, they are most common in the lumbar region from beneath your spine to the hips. Symptoms increase when you’re active and improve when resting. And yet resting does not guarantee freedom from pain, with herniated discs result in suffering through sleepless nights due to pain and numbness.
There is relief to be achieved through physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture and therapeutic massage, but adhering to a healthy lifestyle is the greatest preventative medicine when it comes to avoiding this painful spinal invader. If you are suffering from a herniated disc, a physical therapist has the knowledge and tools to customize a program that will work for you.