More commonly known as a “slipped disc”, a herniated disc in fact does not result from slipping of a spinal disc as this cannot occur due to the fact that the discs are in a fixed position between the vertebrae. A herniated disc, also known as a prolapsed invertebral disc, can be extremely painful and affect people from all walks of life, due to its variety of root causes. Among the most common causes of a herniated disc is trauma, lifting injuries or idiopathic (meaning they seem to arrive spontaneously).
Despite herniated discs often seeming to appear out of nowhere, they often result from a long-standing previous condition. More specifically, when previously existing bulges in the disc are put under further pressure caused by an external source like trauma or lifting, it exacerbates the existing issue causing a disc herniation.
Herniated discs can occur in any disc the spine, thereby exempting the upper two cervical intervertebral spaces, the sacrum and the coccyx as these portions do not have discs. While this may be true, the two most common discs to be affected are the lumbar and cervical discs, with lumbar disc herniations being the most common.
Lumbar disc herniations are often associated with symptoms of sciatica and can have a direct effect on the femoral nerve, causing increased pain in the hips and legs in conjunction with the sciatic and lower back pain. Due to the strength and stability of the region, thoracic discs are rarely affected by disc herniations, but when they are, thoracic herniations mimic either cervical or lumbar disc herniations depending on the location of the affected disc.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Specific symptoms can vary depending on the location of the herniated disc as well as the soft tissue that is affected, allowing for the pain associated with the condition to vary from minimal to severe. A more minor form of the condition that only has tissue injured will likely result in little to no pain. In more severe cases, the pain can radiate beyond the injured area all the way to the extremities, with many people reporting pain, numbness, tingling and muscle paralysis of the limbs as the chief symptom of a herniated disc. These more severe symptoms will typically appear on only one side of the body, but if the prolapse is unusually large providing an even greater amount of pressure, the symptoms can appear on both sides of the body.
Treatment of a Herniated Disc
With a high percentage of people unaware of possessing a herniated disc, it is evident that in many cases this condition does not pose any real threat on a daily basis. However, those who do suffer from pain due to a herniated disc, whether its minimal or severe, have a variety of treatment options. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment options outside of surgery can be explored, with almost all herniated discs initially treated with the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications (NSAIDs). As NSAIDs are not meant for long-term use due to their possible cardiovascular and gastrointestinal toxicity, cortisone injections offer an alternative treatment option, administered through a technique called “epidural steroid injection”.
Although it as been shown that cortisone shots can offer pain relief within 2 to 6 weeks, there have been serious complications associated with it, and thus may not be a viable treatment option for everyone. A lifestyle change has been proven to be an effective partner to the previous treatment options, with physical therapy, rehabilitation and chiropractic and exercise programs shown to be successful.
Treatments for Herniations of Lumbar Discs
For this condition treatments options focus on the combined use of lifestyle changes, anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers to both alleviate pain and heal the wound. This can be seen in variety of types of treatment, including weight control, physical therapy, NSAIDs and oral steroids.
As a last resort, surgery is used sparingly and only in situations that are seen as a medical emergency or where there is serious neurological damage. In severe cases, patients can suffer from Cauda Equina Syndrome, which causes incontinence, weakness and genital numbness and is considered a medical emergency, prompting the use of surgery as means of treatment. With many specific types of surgery that can be used to treat the spinal condition, the overall goal of surgery is to relieve the nerve of the pressure to allow the nerve to heal and thus restore normal back function.
Dwight Howard: Basketball Player for the Orlando Magic
With the NBA Finals already behind us and the new champions, the Heat, still celebrating in the streets of Miami, its interesting to imagine what would have happened if the finals had brought about a interstate competition between the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic; would things have been different? In early April, Orlando let go of its last hope at reaching the playoffs when their star player Dwight Howard was pulled out due to a herniated disc.
A pivotal and already stressful time for any professional basketball player, Howard not only had to deal with the pressure and waning chances of making it to the playoffs due to his injury, but even more so, he had to deal with the severe pain it caused. Now, even with his chance at the playoffs negated, Howard is focused on treating his condition with conservative, rather than surgical, treatment options. But with his free-agent status quickly approaching it is becoming increasingly pivotal for him to be at his best, with Dwight Howard fans across the nation wishing him a speedy and successful recovery.
Perhaps not as well known as his steroid related injuries and headlines, Jose Canseco suffered from a herniated disc while playing for Tampa Bay, just days before he set to start at the All-Star Game. Suffering from a herniated disc in the lumbar region of his spine, Canseco was forced to not only miss the game but also the following 6 weeks of games and practice, a large price to pay at such a pivotal time in the season.
Among many other symptoms resulting from the back injury, Canseco was in extreme pain due to sciatica in the nights before the All-Star Game, prompting his eventual decision to pull out. Although Jose Canseco did go on to make a full recovery from his herniated disc injury, his dependence on steroids and rocky personal life became the ultimate demise of his champion career.