How do you know when your back pain is due to strained muscles or overwork and when it is more serious? One usually learns that back pain is chronic if the pain lasts for more than six weeks and does not get better. A chronic condition is one in which the problem can be expected to remain over a period of time as opposed to an acute injury which can be expected to resolve within a few days or weeks. Disc herniation is a chronic problem that can cause very significant pain.
What is disc herniation? The gel-like substance that is found between the vertebrae is called a disc. The disc has a hard material on the outside but is soft on the inside. The vertebrae are the bony structures in the spine. The main function of the disc is to absorb shock from movement of the body and to keep the vertebra separated and not touching one another. A disc can begin to degenerate when the outer, harder part of the disc is torn or otherwise damaged.
The dictionary defines herniation as “to protrude through an abnormal bodily opening so as to constitute a hernia.” When the outer shell of the disc deteriorates the inner core pushes back into the spinal column, which is known as a herniated disc. This movement of the disc can actually cause it to rub up against the spinal cord and surrounding nerves. This can put direct pressure on the nerve which can cause intense pain throughout the body.
You will hear people refer to disc herniation with several different names including a “slipped disc.” However this is a misnomer because the disc cannot “slip,” due to the fact that it is stuck tightly between two vertebrae. Disc herniation may also be called a prolapsed disc, ruptured disc, pinched nerve or bulging disc. A more clinical description is degenerative disc disease.
Symptoms vary among people from none to very severe. This will depend on the location of the herniated disc and the degree of damage. Some symptoms that may occur along with the pain are tingling, numbness, spasms and muscle weakness. In more serious cases the problem may lead to paralysis. It is important that a physician be consulted whenever back pain is chronic or you suspect a herniated disc.
There are several things you can do to for treatment of a herniated disc:
1. Rest and keep motion to a minimum
2. Explore alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage and relaxation exercises
3. Physical therapy
4. Anti-inflammatory drugs and/or steroids as prescribed by your physician
5. Surgery to correct the positioning of the disc
6. Disc replacement surgery
7. Pain management using a combination of these approaches
If you suspect a herniated disc, be sure to get a proper diagnosis and consider which treatment options are best for you.