Man in a blue shirt suffering from disc herniation

What to Know About Disc Herniation, Also Known As “Slipped Discs”

Disc herniation, also known as “slipped discs” is one of the most common causes of serious lower back and leg pain. Yet as common as they are, herniated discs are not so commonly understood.

How does a disc herniation happen? What symptoms might you feel? How can you best care for yourself while your body recovers? And how might an interventional pain management specialist help you on the path to real relief?

With better understanding comes better treatment, so let’s take a closer look at what’s going on in your spine.

What Is a Disc Herniation?

The Mayo Clinic describes a disc herniation as “a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (discs) that sit between the individual bones (vertebrae) that stack to make your spine.” When the jellylike center (nucleus) of the disc pushes out, it can cause a tear in the annulus, or rubbery exterior, of the disc.

The protruding nucleus can then compress a nearby nerve. This may cause pain, numbness, or weakness in other parts of the body such as the neck, arm, or leg — particularly along one side of the body. 

What Causes a Disc Herniation?

“Most of the time, disc disease happens as a result of aging and the normal breakdown that occurs within the disc,” says Johns Hopkins Medicine. Aging-related wear and tear can cause your discs to become less flexible, and therefore more susceptible to damage.

Medical News Today further explains that “spinal discs also lose some of their water content as a person ages. This reduction in fluid makes the discs less supple and more prone to splitting.”

Though you may not be able to pinpoint when a disc problem began, it can often occur while lifting heavy objects without bending at the knee, or else twisting while lifting something heavy. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, other risk factors for a herniated disc include:

  • Excess body weight
  • A physically demanding job
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Lessening of oxygen supply due to smoking

How Do You Know If You Have a Disc Herniation?

Though in some cases you may have no symptoms at all, common signs of a disc herniation include:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Pain in the spine that possibly spreads to an arm or leg
  • Weakness in muscles linked to the nerve

Your primary care doctor or interventional pain management specialist can also help diagnose a disc herniation with a physical exam.

During the exam, your doctor will check your reflexes, muscle strength, and range of motion. They will also ask you about areas of tenderness and activities that increase your pain levels.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend advanced tests such as an X-ray or an MRI.  

How is a Disc Herniation Treated?

Fortunately, most people recover from a herniated disc without surgery. Treatments recommended by John Hopkins Medicine, SPINE-Health, and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons include:

  • Bed rest
  • Lumbosacral (small of the back and back of the pelvis) support
  • Pain and anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Physical therapy
  • Maintaining healthy body weight
  • Low-impact activities
  • Regular core-strengthening exercises
  • Ice and heat therapy for pain relief
  • Avoiding tobacco products

If you are suffering from pain or complications of what you suspect may be a disc herniation, please reach out to us online or give us a call at 770-929-9033. We will work with you to identify the cause of your pain then develop an individualized treatment plan to bring you real relief.