Back pain affects millions of Americans on a daily basis. In fact, over 80% of the population will experience some degree of back pain at some point in life. This common condition is usually the result of one of three conditions: a bulging disc, a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. These are the most common causes of back pain.
Many people believe a bulging disc and a herniated disc to be the same thing; however, this is not the case. A bulging disc happens when the gel-like substance in the disc loses volume and the disc begins to collapse. Consequently, it flattens out much like a hamburger that is too big for the bun. A herniated disc results from the part of the inside of the disc being pushed out through the tough cartilage of the outer layer. This usually happens when there is a tear or rupture in the annulus, or outer layer.
Discs that rupture or tear like this are often in the early stages of degeneration. When the herniated fragment of the disc puts pressure on the spinal nerves, pain results and it is often severe. Such degeneration often occurs in the lower back with lumbar discs. Not quite as common, cervical discs, those in the neck, can also rupture or tear, causing problems.
Causes of Herniated Discs
Wear and tear on discs over time is often the source of herniated discs. Older people are more susceptible to disc issues. Ligaments holding the discs in place begin to weaken with age, and the substances with which the disc is comprised naturally degenerate over time.
Healthy people can rupture or tear a disc with excessive strain. An injury to the spine can also cause a rupture. Herniated discs seem to run in some families. Several members may be affected, and disc problems may occur in several places in the spine.
Back pain is one of the major symptoms of a herniated disc. Where it is located and the degree to which the disc is herniated are also factors. You can have a herniated disc with little or no pain. This occurs if the herniated area is not pressing on a nerve.
Weakness or numbness can occur when a nerve is involved. The area fed by the nerve will be affected, and you may or may not feel pain. In most instances, patients have episodes of lower back pain or a history of episodes of back pain before being diagnosed with a herniated disk.
A herniated disc in the lower back can create pain, a burning sensation, tingling or numbness that can be felt in the buttocks into the legs. Some individuals will feel pain or discomfort from the buttocks all the way down to the foot. Walking, sitting or standing may increase the pain. Sciatic pain is often more intense in the leg than in the back itself.
Cervical radiculopathy, a herniated disc in the neck, often includes pain between the shoulder blades, radiating into the arms and sometimes into the hand or fingers. Numbness or tingling can be felt in the shoulder and arm on the affected side. Pain can be sharp or dull, and it may increase when you move a certain way.
Most herniated discs improve over time. Recovery can range from a few days to a few weeks. Your activity should be limited for a few days; however, it is best to resume movement after a few days. If you can walk, you should do so. Bed rest can make the problem worse rather than better.
Physical therapy can be very helpful in treating herniated disc issues. Spinal manipulation can also provide relief from the pain. Pelvic traction, gentle massage and other treatments may also provide relief. Ice and heat therapy can reduce swelling and pain levels. Ultrasound treatments and electrical muscle stimulation have also been shown to be effective for treating herniated discs.
Dr. Rolland Nemirovsky has extensive experience in treating a variety of back problems. His expertise in chiropractic care, sports medicine and physical therapy make him the choice for New York’s elite athletes and others who appreciate holistic care. Contact Manhattan Sports Therapy today to schedule your appointment with Dr. Nemirovsky for relief from your back pain.