A disc herniation is an issue with the "cushions" or discs that are located between each vertebra of the spine. These discs act as shock absorbers for our spine and its nerves. It is made with a tough, yet flexible, fibrous outer ring, and a soft jelly centre like a jelly-donut. When pressure causes the jelly filled centre to exit the area between two vertebrae, it is considered a herniation.
Certain factors may increase risks of disc injuries:
- Gender: men between ages of 20-50
- Improper lifting: bending and lifting with the back rather than the legs may cause your back to be in a mechanically disadvantaged position, making your back more vulnerable
- Weight: being overweight puts more stress on your spine
- Driving and sitting: sitting for an extended period of time, especially combined with the vibrations from the vehicle’s engine and/or bumpy roads will put more strain on your spine
- Repetitive activities: repetitive activities especially when performed incorrectly will increase the risk of hurting your back. With disc injuries, they are typically aggravated with repetitive flexion/bending over and/or rotation/twisting. Using safe lifting and proper form will decrease risks.
Disc herniations can occur over time with constant wear and tear or with a sudden injury. When this occurs, the jelly starts to get pushed outwards against the outer ring causing a buldge, herniation, etc. Disc herniations occur when the central fluids are pushed out and exits the outer wall, this is also called a disc extrusion. However, not all disc injuries will cause pain! Studies have shown repeatedly that individuals may have full disc buldges or herniations and yet they don’t feel pain or symptoms. Bigger disc herniations versus disc buldges does not mean more pain. When the disc buldge or herniation puts pressure on the spinal cord and/or its respective nerve roots, it will typically cause different symptoms such as pain, numbness, pins and needles, weakness.
When people present with a disc issue, it is always important to deal with it as quickly as possible. Early MRIs can lead to detection of the disc injury, and possibly premature surgery. Even if individuals did not get an MRI yet, don’t wait. The faster the individual can get a proper physical evaluation, the better, as they can start their recovery process with the right protocols and treatment plan. Disc buldges and herniations typically do not require surgery and recover fully with conservative care.
Specific exercises taught to you by a chiropractor, physiotherapist, or massage therapist (after a proper diagnosis) can help guide the herniation back towards its proper position. This will begin to take stress of the nerves and decrease pain and other symptoms. Appropriate strengthen and modifications after the pain has subsided will ensure it doesn't happen again.
REG FLAG: Individuals should seek emergent medical attention if they notice the loss of bladder or bowel control and saddle anesthesia or numbness in the groin area.