Symptoms and Diagnosis of Herniated Disc
Back pain is an extremely common complaint, and there are many things can cause someone to suffer from this type of debilitating discomfort. One of the reasons that someone might experience back pain is a problem known as a herniated disc.
What is a herniated disc?
Our spine is made up of many components including a column of bones, known as vertebrae, and between them, small, gel-filled pads known as intervertebral discs. The purpose of these discs is to cushion the spine and help it to absorb day to day impact. Discs also help to facilitate movements that we make including bending and stretching.
When we are young, these discs are soft and elastic. However, as we get older, they become dehydrated, losing their natural buoyancy and making them more likely to become damaged. One type of damage that an intervertebral disc can sustain is a rupture. When this happens, some of the discs push outside of their normal boundary. This can cause the spinal cord to become pinched and the nerves to become irritated, and it is this that causes you to experience pain.
Symptoms of a herniated disc
If you are suffering from a herniated disc, you may be experiencing symptoms that include:
Weakness. This occurs because the muscles which are served by the affected nerves weaken. Weakness can be characterized as difficulty lifting or holding items, while leg weakness can also make it tricky for you to stand, walk or move around.
Strange sensations. Our nerves transmit signals to our limbs. However, when you have a herniated disc the ability of the nerves to transmit normal signals may be impaired and instead, you experience strange sensations such as tingling or numbness.
Pain in your arms or legs.Depending on where in your spine your herniated disc is, you may find that you suffer from pain in either your arms or your legs. Herniated discs in the lower back tend to cause discomfort in the lower back, buttocks, thighs, and calves. Upper body herniated discs tend to affect the shoulders and arms. The pain that you feel may be a constant, throbbing ache or a shooting pain that passes after you have changed position.
Bowel/bladder problems. These issues are fairly rare, but problems with bowel or bladder control can be a sign of something known as cauda equina syndrome – a condition that can arise as a result of a herniated disc. Cauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency and you should get to your nearest emergency room if you have issues with bowel or bladder movements, or if you experience sudden numbness around your genitals.
How is a herniated disc diagnosed?
Fortunately, diagnosing a herniated disc is a fairly straightforward process for your doctor. When you attend your appointment, you will be asked what symptoms you are experiencing, along with being given a physical examination during which you may need to perform certain exercises so that your doctor can test the strength in your limbs. Often these are sufficient for your professional to identify that you have a herniated disc. However, in some instances, it may also be necessary for your doctor to ask you to undergo further tests such as an x-ray or even an MRI scan.
What treatment does a herniated disc require?
Exactly what treatment you need will depend on the severity of the problem and the symptoms that you are experiencing. Many patients find that either over the counter or prescription pain relief can bring them sufficient relief from their discomfort. However, if your pain doesn’t improve then your doctor may suggest treatments including anticonvulsants which can help to treat radiating nerve pain, muscle relaxants, and cortisone injections.
If conventional treatments do not seem to be helping, you could consider alternative therapies such as visiting a chiropractor or physical therapist. Nevertheless, a small number of patients will require a surgical solution to the problem. During surgery for a herniated disc, the affected disc is either partially or fully removed, and it may be necessary for our surgeon to fuse the two vertebrae either side together to ensure your spine remains as strong as possible.
If you are concerned that you may have a herniated disc, you don’t have to suffer through pain any longer. Call New York Spine and Sports Surgery today at 516-794-2990 to arrange a consultation with our renowned spine surgeon, Dr. Aron D. Rovner.