The human spine has 33 bones and 24 vertebral discs between two bones. These discs are rubbery and act as shock absorbers and cushions. These discs allow flexing of the backbone, movement in different directions, and maintenance of the spinal curvature.
Sometimes, due to one or many causes, the soft inner portion of a vertebral disc, also known as the nucleus, can enlarge.
A herniated disc is a medical condition where with time, it penetrates through the crack of the hard exterior (annulus) and compresses the spinal nerve.
Herniated discs can be further divided into three types based on the location of the vertebral disc. LDH, or Lumbar Disc Herniation, affects approximately 9% of the global population, and CDH, or Cervical Disc Herniation, affects 18.6% of people in every 100,000.
As the numbers increase yearly, herniated disc detection at an early stage is essential. Only then can the problem be treated or prevent significant damage appropriately.
Anatomy and Causes of Herniated Discs
Anatomy of the Spine
- The spine has 33 small vertebrae bones, further divided into 5 sections. These are cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccyx. A spinal canal in the center of the vertebral column houses the spinal cord and cerebral spinal fluid.
- Each vertebra can slide against one another with the help of cartilaginous facet joints. These provide excellent flexibility and stability to your body, allowing you to twist and turn accordingly.
- Between each vertebra, you will find the intervertebral disc that provides cushion and protection against shocks and traumas. The central portion of the disc is gelatinous and known as the nucleus. The exterior part is hard and often called the annulus.
- All vertebral bones are joined with ligaments to form the proper spinal curvature.
Causes of Herniated Discs
- Age-related Degeneration
As age progresses, the risk of intervertebral disc degeneration increases, leading to a herniated disc in either of the three regions.
- Trauma or Injury
Any trauma or injury to the spine can also lead to a herniated disc, especially if it compresses the spinal nerve. It can cause to be fatal.
- Poor Posture and Body Mechanics
Not maintaining appropriate body posture or lifting heavy weights without any precaution for long periods can lead to the penetration of the nucleus into the spinal cavity. As a result, the spinal nerve gets compressed, leading to a herniated disc.
Sometimes, genetics can also lead to disc herniation in some people. However, it’s rare, so doctors often consider genetic disc herniation the last detection process.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Herniated Discs
- Pain in the lower leg
- Numbness or tingling feeling in the back
- Weakness in the muscle
- Stiffness of back
- Excessive pain from slight movements
- Physical Examination
One of the significant ways of herniated disc detection is identifying the flexibility and stability of your spine through various types of physical examination.
Your doctor can press the muscles to determine exact pain locations and ask you to move your back in different directions. In this way, the doctor can find the exact location of the herniated disc.
- Imaging Tests
The four major imaging tests for timely herniated disc detection and management are MRI, ultrasonography, CT scan, and X-ray.
- Electromyography (EMG)
In rare cases, your doctor can suggest getting an electromyography test where electrical pulses are sent to detect nerve dysfunction, muscle health, and other problems. It is a very detailed test that produces very accurate results.
Treatment Options for Herniated Discs
- Rest and Activity Modification
The best-herniated disc treatment at the initial stages is done through alternate resting and physical activity routines.
For example, your doctor may need you to perform physical activities for 30 minutes daily with a resting period of 6 to 7 hours based on your health conditions. In the case of early detection, this technique is very suitable.
- Physical Therapy and Chiropractic Care
With the help of combined physiotherapy and chiropractic care, the force and position of your spinal discs are changed gently over time. As a result, the pressure build-up will get released, and you won’t feel problems moving.
NSAID or anti-inflammatory drugs can be administered at some point to reduce pain momentarily and help you move. However, you can only have these medicines briefly as they significantly affect overall health.
The professional will remove a particular portion of the herniated disc during this surgery. The surgery is done in the lumbar region, and the affected portion of the intervertebral disc is removed.
It is a newer but less invasive surgical procedure in which the part responsible for nerve compression is removed.
- Spinal Fusion
In this case, two or more vertical discs are fused permanently. Usually, plastic or metallic screws and rods are inserted to provide additional spinal support.
Prevention Strategies for Herniated Discs
- Maintaining a Healthy Weight
One of the best ways to prevent herniated disc prevention is to reduce your weight and keep it in an acceptable range. Obesity often leads to compressed spinal nerves and disc bulging, especially in the cervical or lumbar region. It is because more weight can put more pressure on the spinal cord, leading to herniated discs.
- Regular Exercise and Stretching
Another way to prevent disc herniation is through regular physical exercise, like yoga, stretching, Pilates, walking, jogging, etc. The more you keep your spine active, the better your muscle and bone health will be.
- Proper Posture and Body Mechanics
While working, you need to maintain appropriate body posture for herniated disc prevention. Use ergonomic furniture, always keep straight body postures, and do not stay in the same position for a long time. Get massage therapy if you feel tensed muscles and stiffness in the spine.
- Occupational Safety Measures
Lastly, you need to maintain occupational safety measures. For example, ensure proper precautions if your job entails lifting heavy objects. Also, avoid any significant trauma to the spine, like falling from a height or colliding with something.
A herniated disc is one of the significant causes of back pain in people, and their early detection and proper treatment are essential.
Studies are going on to find an appropriate preventive measure for the problem. Also, research is going on to find new surgical and herniated disc treatment methods.
The modern methods have less risk and are minimally invasive. One such example is the practice of microdiscectomy.
Herniated discs may not be fatal, but they can cause much pain. Hence, it becomes essential to use all precautions and visit your physician immediately if you notice any problems.