Is My Back Pain Due to Slipped (Herniated) Disc?
The vertebral column consists of approximately 33 individual bones (vertebrae) stacked together and interlocked to provide the main support to your body. These vertebrae are separated by cushioning discs (intervertebral discs or IVD) made of fibrocartilage. These IVDs protect the vertebrae from grinding together and absorb shock when you walk, jump, lift a weight, turn and twist.
These IVDs are composed of inner and outer structures. The outer structure is like a strong tyre covering the softer inner structure. The composition of both the structures is similar except for the greater amount of fluid content in the inner structure. These discs and the bones work in harmony to give you good mobility.
What is a herniated disc?
Sometimes the IVDs can get damaged by an injury and the inner structure pushes the outer structure. This distortion usually presses the root of a nerve coming from the spinal cord. This is known as herniated disc and often referred to as slipped disc. Any area in the vertebral column can experience a slipped disc but it’s most common in the lower back.
Dr Vijay Kumar Sohanlal, a senior specialist in joint replacement and orthopaedics at MGM healthcare and Mahi Clinic in Chennai, explains that just the distortion or herniation of the disc is not a major concern and sometimes you may not experience any symptoms. But when the protrusion puts pressure on the nerves, the symptoms of a herniated disc begin to affect.
Some of the symptoms that you may experience are pain, numbness, or weakness around the herniated disc. Sometimes pain and numbness may extend to other body parts depending on the nerves affected in the intricate neural network. You may experience pain in certain movements, walking, bending, standing or sitting. Dr Vijay mentions that the pain can vary between individuals. If you experience continued numbness, tingling or pain, you should see an orthopaedic specialist like Dr Vijay Kumar, who can correctly diagnose the condition and prevent further problems.
Causes of a herniated disc
Due to wear and tear the outer structure of an IVD may rupture, allowing the inner structure to protrude. The wearing away of the disc could be due to age, genetics, poor posture or being overweight. Trauma can lead to a severe disc rupture leading to a herniated disc. Usually, incorrectly lifting weights or maintaining improper posture while sitting for long hours results in unwanted pressure on your back, leading to the condition. Even smoking is known to be a cause in some cases as it reduces the supply of oxygen to the discs.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Dr Vijay Kumar explains that they start with an X-ray to rule out other reasons for pain and numbness. Then CT scan and MRI are done for the patient to confirm the condition and the exact location of the herniated disc.
Dr Vijay mentions that sometimes a conservative treatment is sufficient for a patient’s recovery. But in severe conditions, surgical treatment may be required. You must update the specialist about your recovery, as surgery may be needed if you experience continued weakness in the area or the pain doesn’t subside in 5-6 weeks.
The doctor may perform a lumbar microdiscectomy, wherein a small portion of the disc, that pinches a nerve, is removed. In severe cases, the damaged disc may be replaced with an artificial one. While injuries cannot be completely prevented, you must take precautions to protect your spine while lifting weights and sitting for long hours.
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