Discs are positioned between each vertebra bone in your spine. A disc is made up of two parts: the outer ring is called the annulus; the inner part is called the nucleus. The annulus is hard and fibrous, while the inner nucleus is made up of soft gelatinous material. These discs allow for easy mobility of the backbone as we move and bend, and act as cushions between the vertebral column.
The effects of frequent excessive pressure on your back can cause the discs in your spinal column to rupture or be herniated. Ordinary aging will decrease the height and the softness of the disc, so they will become less effective as shock absorbers. A ruptured or herniated disc happens when pressure causes the nucleus to push against the annulus to the degree that the annulus rips. The majority of herniated discs will rupture toward the spine, causing pain, pressure and irritation on the nerves.
If the rupture is bad enough to cause irritation, you will often times have pain shooting down the leg, following the course of the nerve. You may also experience numbness, weakness or tingling in the leg. More severe cases can involve pain in both legs and loss of bladder or bowel control. If those symptoms occur, a doctor should treat the problem immediately.
Most of the time, a ruptured or herniated disc can get better without surgery. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (also known as NSAIDS) such as Advil or Aleve can relieve the pressure and alleviate the pain after a few days. If, after a few days, the NSAID is not mitigating the pain, the next step may be prescription medicine such as higher strength NSAIDS, pain medication, steroids or muscle relaxers.
If the stronger medication is also not effective, you’ll need further testing in the form of a MRI or CT scan. The results of these tests can establish if you will need an epidural injection of Cortisone. The injection is into your back, around the root of the nerve being pinched.
If none of these treatments help, a microdiscectomy may be needed. A microdiscectomy is a surgical procedure that is done trough a small incision. Using magnification and special instruments, the surgeon can remove the portion of the disc that is ruptured and causing discomfort. A microdiscectomy is less invasive than a traditional lumbar laminectomy, usually being performed with epidural anesthesia so the patient can stay awake during the procedure. The likelihood of vomiting or nausea after a microdiscectomy is decreased, and patients can usually go home a few hours after surgery.
After your symptoms subside, start an exercise or walking program to rehabilitate and strengthen your back to significantly reduce the chances of a slipped disc or pinched nerve from happening again. If you are overweight, losing the extra pounds can remove the excess pressure on your back. Practice safe lifting techniques with proper back mechanics when moving heavy objects.