What is a Herniated Disc?
A herniated disc is a bulging or ruptured vertebral disc that can push against a nerve root causing pain down the arm or leg. A normal disc has a tough outer wall called the annulus and a jelly-like center called the nucleus that acts as a shock absorber between the vertebrae. The outer wall can become weakened and the nucleus can push out or rupture through the wall. The ruptured disc material can irritate the nerve root leading to pain in the nerve’s distribution.
What are the causes?
Weakening of the outer wall may be due to the normal wear of aging, or by injury. Lifting, twisting, falling, motor vehicle accidents, coughing and/or sneezing, all may be causes of a traumatic herniated disc. Aging may lead to small tears in the outer wall, which can eventually lead to herniation of the disc.
What are the symptoms?
For lumbar herniated discs, patients may feel back pain radiating into the leg and foot. Cervical herniated discs lead to neck pain radiating into the arm and hand. Pain in the mid-back radiating around to the chest or abdomen may be due to a thoracic herniated disc. Numbness and tingling are common. Severe nerve irritation may lead to muscle weakness.
What treatments are available?
Treatment options may include anti-inflammatory medications, pain medications, physical therapy, and epidural steroid injections. Most people will get prolonged relief from these treatments. If the pain persists, surgery may be needed to remove the bulging and ruptured portions of the disc.