Your spine is composed of a series of bones, called vertebrae, which make up the spine and the spinal canal. These vertebrae are stacked upon one another on rubber-like discs. Running down the length of the spinal canal is your spinal cord, which is composed of a bundle of nerves that provide functionality to the rest of the body.
Each of the discs in your spine act as shock absorbers between each vertebrae helping to limit damage to the spinal tissues and bones. These discs are made of two parts. The nucleus pulposus is a gelatinous liquid-like center and the annulus fibrosus is a tough elastic band that encircles the soft center.
A herniated disc occurs when the outer layer ruptures or tears and the liquid-like interior is released into the spinal canal resulting in pressure on the nerves or the spinal cord. Compared to a Bulging Disk, a herniated disk is more likely to induce pain because it commonly projects further into the spinal canal; with a higher likelihood of irritating or “pinching” the nerves or spinal cord.
Though herniated discs can happen simply from the natural aging process, they also can occur after a sudden, abrupt movement, as well as a traumatic injury. For instance, impacts from a motor-vehicle crash, ground-level falls, trauma, violence, and sports can all result in a herniated disc.
Neck or lower back pain
Decreased mobility in the neck or lower back
Numbness, tingling, pain, and/or weakness in the shoulders, arms, hands, or fingers
Numbness, tingling, pain, and/or weakness in the buttocks, thighs, calves, feet, or toes
In rare instances, difficulty with balance and dexterity
To diagnose, your doctor will perform a clinical exam and ask you a number of questions regarding your symptoms. Your doctor may look for abnormalities via a physical examination, X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
When appropriate, non-surgical intervention is the first choice and may include:
1. Medications (anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, steroids)
2. Physical Therapy (core strengthening, stretching, soft tissue release)
3. Steroid Injections (epidural, facet blocks)
If non-surgical treatment fails, surgery may be recommended to treat the underlying condition.