Located between the vertebrae of the spine, spinal discs act as cushions. These cushions work as shock absorbers and lessen the pressure put on the spine from daily activities such as moving, bending, twisting, etc. Your spinal discs have two main parts; the soft inside (called the nucleus), and the exterior shell (called the annulus). The annulus has a rubbery texture and is more resilient in comparison to the nucleus. A herniated disc (a.k.a. a slipped disc, a bulged disc, or a ruptured disc) occurs when the nucleus of a disc slips out of the annulus through a tear; coming to rest in the spinal canal. When this happens, unnecessary pressure is put on the spinal nerves which can cause severe pain.
- Excess weight puts extra strain on your joints and lower back
- Working a physically demanding job can put greater stress on your spine
Herniated discs can occur at any location on the spine, as these discs are located between each vertebra. However, this injury commonly occurs in the lower back. This injury can be caused by excessive strain, improper lifting, or other injuries (like those caused by car accidents). Herniated discs are more likely to occur as you age, as these discs naturally deteriorate over time. As you age, and the degeneration progresses, a smaller injury or strain may cause a disc to slip.
Symptoms of a herniated disc may vary depending on the location of the slippage. Generally, you may feel numbness or tingling radiating down a specific body part, and/or muscle weakness. Excess pressure, when applied to the nerves, causes the muscles to weaken; causing you to stumble or struggle to hold objects.
If the slippage occurs in the lower back, you may feel pain in your buttocks, thighs, calves, and/or feet. Conversely, if the slippage occurs in the neck you may feel pain, often described as a sharp or burning sensation, in your shoulder and/or arm.
Your symptoms will also vary depending on where the nucleus settles. If the nucleus rests on the nerves, you may experience sharp pain, numbness, and/or weakness. However, if the nucleus isn’t pressing on your spinal nerves, you may only experience a dull aching.
You should seek the opinion of a medical professional if you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms. Your doctor will perform a full medical evaluation, in order to develop a treatment plan that will aid in a quick recovery. Your doctor will typically recommend that you limit your activity for 2-3 days. However, if you find that you must move, your doctor may recommend that you take anti-inflammatory medication.
Exercise can strengthen the muscles of the abdomen, providing support and stabilization to your spine. Good posture habits, as well as weight management, can reduce the pressure put on your spine. Practicing proper lifting form will also reduce the stress put on your spinal discs, reducing your chances of developing a herniated disc.