Whether it is mild, moderate or severe, herniated disc pain can have a major impact on your life. From relationships to favorite hobbies, dealing with herniated disc pain and related symptoms can make it difficult to spend time with the people you love and do the things you need to do.
This guide will help you understand what causes herniated disc pain, how to recognize the symptoms and the best treatment and preventative steps to find the relief you deserve. By providing basic educational information, our goal is to help you take a more active role in your care and achieve a healthy lifestyle.
What Is a Herniated Disc?
A herniated disc happens when the soft inner material of a spinal disc begins to push out through a tear or weak spot in the tougher outer layer. Herniated discs most commonly develop in the lower (lumbar) spine or upper (cervical) spine because these discs undergo more pressure than the discs in the middle (thoracic) spinal region.
Herniated discs are common and become more likely to develop as we get older and the spinal discs are less able to withstand stress. Herniated disc pain can occur due to irritation on the disc itself or as a result of nerve compression by the herniated disc.
Herniated Disc Pain Symptoms
A herniated disc is not necessarily painful. In fact, many people have this condition for years without being aware of it. Local herniated disc pain can happen when herniated disc material irritates nerves on the surface of the disc. More severe pain is usually the result of the herniated disc irritating or compressing the spinal cord or adjacent nerve roots in the spinal column.
Nerve compression can result in the following herniated disc pain symptoms:
- Shooting pains into the upper or lower extremities
- Muscle weakness
The location of the herniated disc typically affects where patients experience symptoms. For example, a herniated disc in the lumbar spine can generally cause herniated disc pain in the lower back, buttocks, hips and legs. When a lumbar herniated disc compresses the sciatic nerve that travels into the lower body, these symptoms are known as sciatica.
A herniated disc in the cervical spine will often result in neck pain as well as shooting pains and radiating symptoms in the arms and hands. Compression of the spinal cord by a cervical herniated disc can also result in lower body symptoms.
In rare cases, a herniated disc can cause a serious condition known as cauda equina syndrome which is a medical emergency. Anyone experiencing herniated disc pain accompanied by weakness or paralysis in the lower extremities, sexual problems and urinary or bowel incontinence should seek immediate medical attention.
Herniated Disc Pain Causes
The discs cushion and separate the vertebrae in the spinal column, acting as shock absorbers and enabling movement like bending and flexing. Over time, a combination of everyday stress and pressure and natural degenerative forces that dry out the discs can lead to conditions such as bulging and herniated discs. Another significant contributor can be injuries, such as overexertion from lifting or high impact trauma such as a car accident.
Herniated discs typically when the tough outer layer of the disc becomes dry and brittle, leading to the development of cracks. Continued stress or injury can cause these smaller cracks to become larger tears. Eventually, the soft inner material of a spinal disc will begin to push out through this tear.
Can You Prevent Herniated Disc Pain?
Because herniated discs are very often caused by age-related degeneration, there is no way to completely prevent them from occurring. The following steps can help anyone significantly lower the risk of herniated discs and herniated disc pain:
- Practice good posture and lifting technique
- Eat a healthy nutrient rich diet and stay hydrated
- Stay active and get regular exercise, especially core strengthening exercises
- Take steps to manage weight, as carrying excess body weight increases pressure on the discs
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
Even if you have already been diagnosed with a herniated disc, these steps can still help prevent herniated disc pain from developing further or becoming worse.
Herniated Disc Pain Diagnosis and Treatment
When encountering potential herniated disc pain, doctors will usually review medical history, ask questions about symptoms and perform a physical examination to diagnose the condition. Diagnostic imagery such as an MRI may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
Herniated disc pain treatment usually begins with conservative therapies, including:
- Hot and cold compression therapy, such as alternating a heating pad and an ice pack
- Over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medication
- Lifestyle management steps, including postural therapy, weight management and nutritional counseling
- Physical therapy
- Interventional pain management, including epidural steroid injections
Herniated disc pain that does not respond to conservative therapies may benefit from spine surgery. Minimally invasive procedures have been developed that can remove herniated disc material that is causing nerve compression. By using muscle sparing techniques and a small incision, these procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis and with less risk of complication and a shorter recovery compared to traditional open spine procedures.
From Interventional Pain Management to Surgery, PPOA Can Help Herniated Disc Pain
At Physician Partners of America (PPOA,) we are committed to helping people overcome pain and get back to the healthy and active lifestyle we deserve. Our caring and dedicated pain management experts have focused experience helping patients overcome herniated disc pain.
We can help you identify the source of your symptoms and create a personalized treatment plan that is right for your specific needs and treatment goals. From interventional pain management to minimally invasive spine surgery, we can help you find lasting relief at any stage of your treatment journey.
Contact us today to learn more and schedule your first appointment.