The spine consists of more than 20 bones, or vertebrae, that have discs for cushion and support. The discs are filled with a jelly-like substance, also referred to as the nucleus of the discs. As humans age, the spinal discs can wear out or degenerate, and a disc will lose its ability to cushion the spine. Sometimes, a spinal disc can rupture, and lead to what is known as a herniated disc. The ruptured disc “allows the jelly-like center of the disc to leak, irritating the nearby nerves,” according to MedLine Plus. A herniated disc can lead to back or neck pain or sciatica, shooting pain felt from the buttocks to the back of one leg.
With a herniated disc, a lot of pressure is put on the surrounding nerves. Risk factors for herniated discs include improper lifting, smoking, obesity, repetitive tasks that strain the back and more, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. The pressure on the spinal nerves from a herniated disc can lead to many symptoms involving pain or numbness in a single or both legs or arms, depending on where the herniated disc is located.
When the herniated disc is located in the lower back, an individual may feel pain, tingling or numbness in one leg or the buttock. The individual may also experience burning pain, and lose control of the bladder or bowels. With a herniated disc situated near the neck, an individual might experience shooting pain in the neck and/or arm, or headaches in the back of the head. A person suffering from a herniated disc near the neck could also lose control of the bladder and bowels and also feel weakness or tingling in one arm.
To diagnose a herniated disc, a doctor might request the full medical history and details surrounding when a patient first experienced symptoms. Typical tests administered to determine if a patient has a herniated disc include x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography scans or electromyography. After a patient is diagnosed with a herniated disc, there are several options of treatment available for the condition.
According to the AAOS, more than 90 percent of patients receive nonsurgical treatment for herniated discs with successful results. Simple procedures such as resting and taking over-the-counter prescription medication may be recommended to relieve symptoms. In addition, a doctor might suggest heat applications, cold compresses, exercises or analgesics, muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatory medications. More advanced treatment options include epidural injections, physical therapy or surgeries if a disc fragment gets lodged in the spinal canal.