Spinal discs are the spine’s shock absorbers. Small, with a jelly-like interior and a tough outer exterior, these discs fill the spaces between each vertebra in the spine. They keep the spine in motion and flexible. Over time, these spinal discs typically lose some of their fluid content and get smaller thus increasing the risk of injury or damage. When damaged, the disc interior may leak out into the spinal space and cause the disc to bulge or get out of place. This phenomenon is what physicians call a herniated disc or “slipped” disc. These small but powerful discs, when out of place, can lead to an extremely painful condition occurring in the cervical spine, lumbar or thoracic.
A herniated disc is typically a result of both a weakened, degenerated disc and an injury. Sometimes, the disc weakens over time leaving the patient unable to pinpoint exactly what caused the onset of pain. As we age, spinal discs gradually lose their water content making them less flexible and more susceptible to wear and tear. Some patients experience a slipped disc by lifting heavy objects improperly or twisting the spine during strenuous activity. Damage can also occur during a fall, car accident, or related trauma. Excess weight can also be a culprit due to the strain extra weight places on the spine.
Pain and numbness, sometimes likened to pins and needles, in the back and extremities are often feelings commonly described by patients with herniated discs. Cervical herniated discs are often associated with muscle weakness, numbness, and pain in the arms and shoulders. Sitting for long periods of time may exacerbate symptoms as well.
Ice, over-the-counter pain medication and rest are common treatments for this condition. Physical therapy helps build muscles around the disc or they may even be fitted with a brace to provide stability. The doctors at The Spine & Pain Center sometimes prescribe medication to ease pain and reduce pressure on the nerves. Other options include corticosteroid injections which do not pose the same side effects as medication and may provide longer lasting relief.