Herniated discs, also known as slipped discs, ruptured discs and torn discs, are different from bulging discs although your symptoms may be similar.
Spinal discs rest between the spinal vertebrae, acting as cushions for the flexible spinal column. The discs are often equated to jelly donuts, with thick rubbery tissue surrounding a gelatinous core.
A bulging disc is when the exterior of the disc protrudes or swells outward but remains intact. Herniated discs, however, mean the wall of the disc experiences a tear and leaks its interior into the surrounding spinal area, irritating the nerves, ligaments or spinal cord.
Disc herniation can sometimes be a painful experience, requiring weeks of recovery, treatment and, in some rare cases, surgery. If a wreck, work injury, or slip and fall accident leaves you with a back or spinal cord injury, contact us at 770-934-8000.
What Causes a Herniated Disc?
Disc herniation can be caused by normal age-related wear and tear as the disc slowly begins to dehydrate and become more brittle. Your risk of developing a torn disc increases if you're overweight or have an occupation that requires strenuous repetitive movement (i.e. lifting, bending, pushing or twisting).
Spinal trauma, such as in a car wreck or work accident, can cause herniated discs as well. A herniated disc can also develop after a bulging disc bursts due to a twisting injury or physical trauma caused by a collision.
What Are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?
A ruptured disc typically occurs in the lower back (lumbar spine) or occasionally in the upper spine of the neck area (cervical spine). The leaking disc may put pressure on and irritate nerves, ligaments or the spinal cord.
Herniated disc symptoms include:
- Pain in the shoulders, arms or hands
- Leg pain, including in the buttocks, thigh or calf
- Pain triggered by coughing, sneezing or other sudden movements
- Numbness or tingling
- Weakness, such as stumbling or inability to lift or grip items
- Pinched nerves
In some cases, you may not have any symptoms. This is why it is important to see your family doctor after a collision or injury on the job.
How Is a Herniated Disc Diagnosed?
There are several ways a physician can detect a herniated disc and eliminate other possible ailments or spinal degeneration.
X-Rays - X-rays do not detect herniated discs but they can be used to rule out other conditions such as infections, tumors and broken bones.
CT Scan - A CT scan is multiple x-rays taken from many different angles to create a cross-sectional image of the spine.
MRI - This is the best way to see if there's a herniated disc. Radio waves and a magnetic field are used to reveal internal structures and pinpoint the affected disc and nerves.
Myelogram - A special dye is injected into the spinal fluid and X-rays are taken. A myelogram can show if there's pressure on the spinal cord or specific nerves due to multiple herniated discs or other conditions.
EMG - An electromyogram is able to precisely pinpoint which nerves are being irritated.
What Are My Treatment Options?
There are a variety of treatment options available and unless your spinal injuries are severe, doctors will typically prescribe a conservative treatment regimen. You should avoid painful positions and follow an exercise and medicinal regimen to relieve symptoms.
Herniated disc treatment may include:
- Ibuprofen or naproxen to mitigate mild to moderate pain
- Narcotics to manage severe pain
- Anti-convulsants (normally used for seizures) to treat radiating nerve pain
- Muscle relaxers to control spasms
- Oral steroids or cortisone injections to reduce swelling and inflammation
- Physical therapy
- Alternative treatments such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage and yoga
Will I Need Surgery to Treat a Disc Herniation?
If, after several weeks, your pain doesn't go away or your symptoms get worse, surgery is likely your best option.
A common type of disc surgery is to simply remove the protruding piece of the disc. In rare cases, the entire disc may need to be removed - the spinal vertebrae will then be fused together or the surgeon will implant an artificial disc.
Surgery for herniated discs is rare and you should talk to your doctor or specialist about the surgical options available to you.
Can a Disc Herniation Become Worse?
If left untreated or undetected, a herniated disc can seriously impair a person's quality of life. You should seek emergency help if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Pain, numbness or weakness prevents you from performing normal daily activities
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction (this could indicate pressure on the cauda equina, a bundle of nerves located at the end of the spine like a horse's tail)
- Saddle anesthesia - a loss of sensation in the parts of the body that would normally touch a saddle, such as the inner thighs, back of legs and buttocks
If you're suffering from a herniated disc, back pain, neck pain or other injuries due to a negligent driver or hazardous working conditions give Gary Martin Hays & Associates a call at 770-934-8000.
We can help get the insurance company to compensate you for the expensive and unexpected medical care you need to recover and return to normal.