What is a herniated disc?
Back pain is one of the most typical types of pain, and it is often very burdensome and disabling. Back pain is only rarely a dangerous condition and it will often disappear by itself. However, this is not always the case.
For around one person in five, the pain becomes long-term. The continuous pain can be due to a so-called degenerative disease which can lead to a herniated disc.
A herniated disc occurs when the soft “jelly” inside a spiral disc pushes out through a tear in the exterior of the disc.
What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?
The symptoms of a herniated disc often include back pain, but also other symptoms like fever, fatigue and weight loss occur. If you experience either of the following, consult your GP:
- If the back pain has lasted for weeks and is steadily increasing
- If you experience leg pain as well – in one or both
- If you experience sensory disturbances in one or both legs.
In addition, a number of severe conditions requiring immediate medical attention might arise:
- Paralysis in one or both legs
- Loss of sensation affecting the crotch
- Bladder or bowel dysfunctions
If you recognise either of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should see your GP. By conducting an MR scan, the doctor will check for a herniated disc. An MR scan provides a detailed image of the body, including bones, cartilage, ligaments and soft tissue. It also shows nerves and blood vessels.
What are the causes of a herniated disc?
The spine consists of individual bones or vertebrae held together by ligaments and rubbery cushions called discs. A disc consists of connective tissue with a jelly-like core, and these discs act as shock absorbers and enable movement of the spine. The posterior spinal column contains a bundle of nerve fibres which connect the brain with the rest of the body. This bundle is called the spinal cord. A herniated disc occurs when the jelly-like core breaks through the connective tissue of the disc, thus forming a bulge pointing towards the spinal cord. The bulge sometimes pushes against the bundle of nerve fibres and this can lead to a number of symptoms.
The condition often occurs in the lower back, but it may also occur in the neck, or in rare cases, in the chest. The bulge can be due to aging, hard physical labour or trauma such as falling or being in a car accident.
What are the treatments for a herniated disc?
A herniated disc is often treatable without surgery by simply relieving the strain on the back. It is also possible to supplement the treatment using medication, often in the form of pain killers. In addition, the condition can be treated through careful rehabilitation when the condition is decreasing in intensity. If a case cannot be treated conservatively, the damage to the disc can be mended using surgery.