Is It Just Back and Neck Pain or a Herniated Disc?
Sometimes, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.
A herniated disc (sometimes referred to as a “slipped” or “ruptured” disc) can occur anywhere on the spine but is most common in the lower back (lumbar spine) and neck (cervical spine). It is one of the leading causes of back/neck pain, and if left untreated, could lead to much worse conditions.
Our board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic specialists at EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region have the expertise to treat herniated discs utilizing various methods. Our Back, Neck, and Spine team utilizes the most advanced medical approaches and techniques to provide patients with the best available care in the region.
Before your appointment, it can be helpful to do some research to explore possible causes and solutions to the symptoms you are experiencing. Keep reading to learn about the different causes and symptoms of herniated discs, as well as potential treatment options.
The spine is made up of three main segments: the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. Each of the three main segments are made up of vertebrae—small bones stacked on top of one another to create a canal that protects the spinal cord. Between the vertebrae are flat, round discs that help make up the spinal column.
These soft, rubbery discs are made up of a thick outer ring of cartilage (annulus) and an inner gel-like substance (nucleus). They gradually decrease in size as you travel up the spine from the lumbar portion to the cervical portion. Discs give the spine its flexibility and act as shock absorbers.
A disc herniates when part of the center nucleus pushes through the outer ring of cartilage and back toward the spinal canal. This puts pressure on the ultra-sensitive spinal nerves, which can react adversely to even the slightest pressure.
Herniated Disc Causes and Symptoms
Herniated discs are most often due to a sudden injury or gradual wear and tear. Spinal discs initially have a high water content, but as you age, the water content decreases. This leads to the discs shrinking, having less flexibility, and the space between the vertebrae decreasing.
Symptoms generally include (depending on where the herniated disc is within your spine):
- Back or neck pain radiating down the arm or leg
- Weakness/tingling/numbness in the arm/leg/foot
- Loss of bladder/bowel control
- Burning pain in the shoulders/neck/arm
Three Possible Herniated Disc Treatment Options
Only after an in-depth consultation with one of EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region’s talented orthopedists will you know which treatment method is best for you and your needs, but below are three common options.
- Combination of Conservative Treatment Methods
Most patients are successfully treated with a custom combination of non-surgical treatments performed over the course of a few months. A conservative treatment plan will typically include one or more of the following options:
- Heat or Cold Compress
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Activity modification
- Physical therapy (specific exercises)
- Massage and/or Chiropractic
- Discectomy, Microdiscectomy, and Fusion
If the herniated disc does not respond to conservative treatment methods and/or your condition is too severe, surgery will usually be recommended. A discectomy involves removing the herniated part of the disc (as well as any fragments) that are putting pressure on the nerve root and/or spinal cord. When possible, it will typically be performed as a microdiscectomy, which involves the use of microscope or magnification through a very small incision to allow for less damage to the surrounding tissue. Sometimes, the discectomy can be performed endoscopically, using a small camera and an incision the width of a pencil.
Once the damaged pieces of the herniated disc are removed, in some cases, the doctor may fuse the two vertebrae on either side of the disc together in a process called spinal fusion. This will help provide stability.
- Artificial Disc Replacement
With this surgical procedure, first FDA-approved in 2007 and gaining in use, the entire herniated disc is removed and replaced with an artificial disc to simulate normal disc function. The artificial disc is typically made of metal and plastic. EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region has been a leader in artificial disc replacement, performing disc replacements as part of FDA clinical trials since 2005.
No matter which treatment method(s) your orthopedic physician recommends, it is crucial that you follow the instructions provided—carefully and precisely. It is critical to your overall recovery and results.
Trust the team at EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region with your herniated disc treatment plan. Click here to schedule an appointment at one of our locations or contact us at (919) 220-5255.