Patients diagnosed with a herniated disc are often surprised to learn that this spine condition is the source of symptoms that can include neck pain, back pain, leg pain, tingling and muscle weakness. These and other forms of herniated disc pain can be highly debilitating, taking you away from favorite activities, lessening job productivity and even affecting relationships. At USA Spine Care, we believe an important step in any patient’s treatment journey is education.
By learning more about how a herniated disc develops and causes symptoms, you can take a more informed approach to treatment. Our goal is to help you work more closely with your treatment team so you can develop a personalized care plan that is right for your needs and lifestyle. As you read over the following information, we encourage you to reach out to us at any time with questions or if you’d like to learn more about your options for relief.
How does a herniated disc cause symptoms?
Herniated discs are not necessarily painful by themselves. In fact, it is possible to develop spinal disc conditions such as bulging or herniated discs without knowing it. It may also only result in minor local irritation or pain.
A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner material of a spinal disc pushes out through a tear in the tough outer layer. The protein-rich disc fluid can potentially irritate nerves on the outer part of the disc, which is how minor pain and irritation occurs.
More serious symptoms, including shooting pain, leg pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness occur if a herniated disc puts pressure on interferes with the nerves in the spinal column. Because the spine is so densely packed with nerve material, including the spinal cord and nerve roots, a relatively small amount of displacement or narrowing can result in nerve compression.
The location of the herniated disc also affects symptoms
There are spinal discs between nearly all the major vertebrae in the spinal column. These discs act as shock absorbers, allowing us to bend and flex smoothly, while still holding us upright and protecting the central nervous system. Because a herniated disc can develop at any layer of the spine, it can impact where the symptoms occur.
The three layers of the spinal column are:
- Cervical spine — This is the upper part of the spine, labeled C1 to C7. A herniated disc in the cervical spine can cause neck pain, headaches, and radiating symptoms into the arms and hands.
- Thoracic spine — The middle region of the spine, labeled T1 to T12 is fixed to the ribcage. While there are discs in the middle spine, conditions such as herniated discs are more rare because of the rigidity in this region.
- Lumbar spine — The lower spine is labeled L1 to L5, although some people have an extra sixth lumbar vertebra. Herniated lumbar discs result in lower back pain, leg pain, and radiating symptoms into the lower extremities, often diagnosed as sciatica.
Sciatica occurs when a condition such as a herniated disc puts pressure on the sciatic nerve which originates in the lumbar spine and spreads out to the lower extremities on both sides of the body. This is one of the primary ways a herniated disc causes symptoms such as leg pain and muscle weakness.
Finding relief from herniated disc symptoms
Upon diagnosis, a herniated disc will typically first be treated with conservative therapies. Many of these are ones patients can perform at home, including getting rest, taking over-the-counter medication, using hot and cold therapy and performing gentle stretches.
The primary goal of conservative treatment is to manage symptoms and improve function while you and your doctor monitor the progress of the condition. Individual herniated discs can improve, but the underlying causes are generally due to the natural aging process. This means there is a chance for a herniated disc to worsen and for symptoms to become chronic and debilitating over time.
Physical therapy and therapeutic injections are more advanced nonsurgical options that patients can attempt for serious herniated disc pain. The relief from pain and inflammation caused by an injection can make it possible to undergo physical therapy that may have otherwise been too painful. Physical therapy helps herniated discs by helping patients strengthen supporting muscles and improve posture and mechanics that can take pressure off the herniated disc.
Considering herniated disc surgery
If weeks or months of conservative treatment do not bring the relief necessary for a good quality of life, surgery can become an option. Through minimally invasive procedures, patients can find relief from herniated disc pain on an outpatient basis. At USA Spine Care, our highly skilled surgeons can access the spine through a less than 1-inch incision, removing herniated disc material without disrupting surrounding tissue.
To learn more about our full range of treatment options for a herniated disc, from physical therapy to minimally invasive surgery, contact our caring and dedicated team today.
Herniated Disc Quick Answers:
Can a herniated disc heal on its own?
Although it is possible for a herniated disc to heal on its own, it’s important to understand that the underlying cause of this condition is often the natural aging process. Over time, the discs become dry and brittle, losing elasticity and making conditions such as herniated disc more likely.
How do you fix a herniated disc?
A herniated disc may heal on its own or it can be treated with surgery. Through a surgical procedure called a discectomy, surgeons can remove herniated disc material that is causing painful nerve compression.
How painful is a herniated disc?
Herniated disc symptoms and severity vary from patient to patient. In some cases, people may experience little or no pain. In others, severe nerve compression can lead to chronic and debilitating pain. It is important to be proactive about receiving qualified diagnosis and treatment to ensure the best chance of long-term relief.
What is the fastest way to heal a herniated disc?
There is no way to guarantee that a herniated disc will heal, but the best way to increase the likelihood of a quick and effective recovery is to commit to conservative therapy and a spine-healthy lifestyle. Strengthening core muscles and improving posture relieve stress on the discs while eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can relieve inflammation and improve blood flow.