A herniated disc slips out of position and puts undue pressure on one or more nerves in your back. The pressure on your nerve may cause moderate to intense pain. The pain could be worse with activity or prolonged periods of standing or sitting. You might also experience weakness or numbness. If the herniated disc is in your lower back, you might notice numbness in your legs. When a disc is severely herniated, you could even lose control over your bladder and bowels.
Causes of Herniated Discs
A herniated disc in your back could be caused by age-related wear and tear. As you get older, your discs lose moisture and strength, allowing them to slip out of place. An injury to your spine may also result in a herniated disc. Injuries such as a slip-and-fall accident or car accident could force the fluid or gel within the discs out through a small crack, resulting in herniation.
How Herniated Discs Are Diagnosed
Your orthopedic doctor may measure the angle of your spine and ask you to move into certain positions, such as bending over to touch your toes. In most cases, one or more imaging studies are needed in order to determine which disc is herniated and what is causing the problem. X-rays are used to identify fractures and fluid buildup in and around your bones. CT or MRI scans allow your orthopedic doctor to visualize your soft tissues, such as muscles and nerves in your back.
Treatment Options for Herniated Discs
Rest and apply heat to your sore back. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever might help to reduce your pain and the tissue swelling. In some cases, physical therapy will be all the treatment that is needed for a herniated disc. With physical therapy, you can go as often as needed, and there are no side effects. The therapist will teach you strengthening and stretching exercises to help reduce injuries to your soft tissues. If swelling in your muscles, nerves or ligaments has caused the disc to slip out of place, a steroid injection could reduce the swelling so that your disc can move back into position naturally. In some cases, orthopedic interventions such as braces may help. In severe cases and when your pain is not relieved through other, non-invasive measures, back surgery may be offered by your orthopedic surgeon.