Herniated discs can affect any portion of the spine but are most common in the neck and lower back.
Because space within the spinal structure is naturally limited, a herniated or ruptured disc can cause significant discomfort when it presses against nearby nerve roots. This irritates and inflames the affected nerve, causing pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs, shoulders, arms, and other parts of the body.
Award-winning pain management specialist John S. Michels, MD, serves the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area with minimally invasive treatments that conquer pain, increase mobility, and improve your overall quality of life.
Read Dr. Michels’ comprehensive take on the warning signs, causes, nonsurgical treatments, and prevention of herniated discs.
What is a herniated disc?
There are 24 rubbery cushions called discs between the vertically stacked bones (vertebrae) in your spine. These discs have a soft center encased in a tougher, more rigid exterior.
Sometimes called a slipped or ruptured disc, a herniated disc occurs when the softer inner core pushes out through a crack or tear in the tougher exterior.
Symptoms and causes of a herniated disc
Signs and symptoms of a herniated disc vary depending on where they occur and whether the ruptured disc material presses against surrounding nerves. If a disc herniates away from the nerve, you may not experience any symptoms.
Otherwise, pain related to a herniated disc may be mild to severe, and the area of discomfort may indicate the location of the damaged disc.
For instance, a herniated disc pressing on nerve roots in the lower (lumbar) back can cause pain in the back, buttocks, thigh, and calf. A herniated disc in the cervical spine (neck) can cause pain that’s felt in the shoulder and arm. The pain is usually one-sided but can occur in both arms or legs.
Our patients often describe the discomfort as sharp or burning, and it can occur along the entire area (dermatome) served by the affected nerve. It may worsen with coughing, sneezing, or other sudden movements.
Along with pain, you may feel numbness or tingling in the nerve dermatome. Muscle weakness affecting your ability to walk or lift an object is another potential symptom of a pinched nerve caused by a herniated disc.
Causes of herniated discs include:
- Age-related changes in discs (e.g., loss of flexibility)
- Inappropriate lifting techniques
- Repetitive bending, lifting, or twisting during job activities, sports, or hobbies
- Disc damage sustained during falls or other traumatic injury
Excess weight also increases your risk of disc herniation because it strains spinal structures, making discs more vulnerable.
Treating and preventing herniated discs
As a past NFL Super Bowl champion with his own pain history, Dr. Michels is highly motivated to develop personalized treatment strategies that suit your needs.
Most disc herniations respond well to conservative therapies that may include oral anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxers, physical therapy, and activity modification.
Based on your evaluation results, which may include diagnostic imaging studies, Dr. Michels may also recommend an epidural steroid injection to decrease pain and reduce inflammation. This action helps soothe irritated nerves.
Symptom relief after these in-office injections can last for weeks to months, allowing you to fully participate in physical therapy and other conservative treatments as the disc heals.
Along with addressing your current symptoms, Dr. Michels works with you to develop a personalized strategy to reduce future risks.
You can’t always prevent a herniated disc, but adjusting your diet, losing weight, incorporating back-friendly exercises into your daily routine, and other healthy changes in lifestyle habits can help.
Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Michels today by calling our office or requesting an appointment online.