What causes a herniated disc?
A herniated disc refers to the problem with the rubbery cushions (discs), between the bones (vertebrae), and that stack to make your spine. The spinal disc is made up of a soft, jellylike central (nucleus), surrounded by a tougher and more rubbery outer (annulus). A herniated or slipped disc can be called when some of the nucleus pushes forward through a tear in an annulus.
A herniated or bulging disc can occur in any area of the spine. It is most common in the lower back. It can cause weakness, pain, or numbness in an arm or leg, depending upon the location of the herniated distal. Many people are not aware that they have a herniated or bulging disc. If you do have symptoms, they tend to get better over time. Surgery is often not required to alleviate the problem.
What is the difference between a herniated disc and a normal disc?
To understand a herniated distal disc, think of a jelly donut. (Yes, it’s strange. But we will be patient.) There are 24 discs inside your spine. They run from the top (called “cervical spine”) down to the lowest (called “lumbar spine”). The shock absorbers that your movement requires are the discs at the top and bottom of your spine. The discs provide support for your spine, allowing it to bend or move.
“Imagine a jelly doughnut when you have a herniated or bulging disc. “The annulus Fibrosus, the outside of a disc, is similar in appearance to the dough of a donut. The nucleus pilosus is the jelly found in the donut. Imagine the donut having a hole in it. Now press down. The jelly will begin to squirt through it, just like how the nucleus of your spine would. If the nucleus palmosus presses on the annulus fibrosus, and touches a nerve, then you feel the pain associated with a herniated or bulging disc.
The lower back is the most common location for herniated bowels, but they can also happen in the neck. The location of the disc and whether it is pressing on a nervous system will impact the symptoms. One side of the body is usually affected by herniated discs.
- Arm or leg pain. If the herniated nerve is located in your lower lower back, in addition to pain in your lower lower back, you will also feel pain in both your buttocks, calf and thigh. The pain may extend to the foot.
- A herniated disc in the neck will cause pain in your arm, shoulder, and arm. This may feel like a shooting pain when you cough or sneeze. The pain can often be described as intense or burning.
- Tingling, numbness or paralysis. People with a herniated spinal disc may feel tingling or numbness in their affected areas.
- Weakness. The affected nerves may cause weakness in muscles. This can cause you or your children to fall or make it harder to lift or hold onto items.
You don’t have to feel the symptoms of a herniated vertebra. Unless the disc is visible in a spinal image, you might not realise that you have it.
Risk factors for a herniated disc include:
- Weight. The discs in the lower back are more stressed if you have excess weight.
- Occupation. Back problems are more common for those with physically demanding jobs. Repetitive lifting, pushing, pulling and twisting can all increase the likelihood of a herniated distal disc.
- Genetics. Some people are predisposed to herniated discs.
- Smoking. Smoking can reduce oxygen supply to discs. This causes them to degrade more quickly.
- Frequent driving. Sitting for prolonged periods while vibrating from the motor vehicle’s engine can pressure the spine.
- Being sedentary. Regular exercise is a good way to prevent a herniated distal.
Your spinal cord ends just above your waist. You can see the spine canal’s end from above, where there are long nerve roots that look like a horse’s tail (cauda.equina). Rarely, a disc herniation could compress the entire spinal canal, along with all the nerves and cauda equina. If you are in need of emergency surgery to avoid paralysis and permanent weakness, it is possible.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.
- Worsening symptoms. It is possible to experience worsening symptoms such as numbness, pain or weakness.
- Bladder dysfunction and bowel dysfunction. Cauda Equina syndrome can cause urinary incontinence.
- Saddle anesthesia. This progressive loss affects the areas that would touch the saddle: the inner thighs of the legs, the back of the legs, and the area around a rectum.
Here are some tips to prevent a herniated distal disc.
- Exercise. Stabilizing the spine and supporting it by strengthening your trunk muscles will help you do so.
- Proper posture is key. This helps reduce the pressure on your spine. When you’re sitting for long periods of time, be sure to align your back and keep it straight. Lift heavy objects carefully and allow your legs, not your back, to do the lifting.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Excessive body weight can place more pressure upon the spine and discs making them more vulnerable to herniation.
- Stop smoking. Tobacco products should be avoided.
What does a herniated distal feel like?
A disc herniation happens when the disc presses onto a nerve or spinal cord. Radiculopathy refers to a pinched nerve and can cause pain, numbness, and weakness. Depending upon the location of the pinched nerve, pain can occur in various places.
- If your lumbar spinal disc has herniated, the pain could radiate down your leg and into your butt.
- If your herniated spinal disc pinches a nerve in the cervical spine, it can cause arm pain and weakness that shoots down your shoulder and upper back.
- It all depends on the degree of herniation and the type of nerve being pinched.
- “Pressure on your Spinal Cord is a bit worse if you begin to experience symptoms.”
- “That is usually called myelopathy. This refers to loss or control of certain areas in the body.”
How long does it usually take for a herniated distal to heal?
It can take between 4 and 6 weeks for a herniated or bulging disc to heal. However, it can improve within a few days depending upon how severe the herniation was. The main factor in healing herniated discs is time. Most of the time it will resolve naturally. How you recover and what kind of treatment you use will affect how long it takes for healing to occur.
The 4 Stages of a Herniated Disc
The formation of herniated discs can be divided into four stages as shown below:
- Disc Degeneration. The nucleus pulposus is affected by age-related chemical changes. No bulging (herniation)is seen at this stage. It’s simply that the disc has started to dry and become less able to absorb the shocks of your movements.
- Prolapse. This is when the shape or position of the discs changes. Depending on where the bulge is, it may begin to form a slight bulge.
- Extrusion. The gel-like nucleus of the nucleus pulposus is pushed through the tire-like annulus fibrosus wall during extrusion but remains in the disc.
- Sequestration. During this stage, the nucleus of pulposus buries the annulus fibrosus. It even leaves the spinal canal.