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How Does a Disc Herniate?

The spine is one of the most complicated areas of our human anatomy. It is made up of bony segments, called vertebrae, and jelly-like discs that act as shock absorbers between the bones. Alongside the vertebrae runs a finely tuned system of nerves that allow us to function in our daily lives. When everything is working as it should, there is just enough room for all of the parts to do their job without interference. When something goes wrong, however, it can lead to a cascade of events that result in pain, weakness, and misery.

A disc is designed to take pressure from the vertebrae above and below it. It will function normally as long as that pressure is within reason. When a person loads their spine with massive force, repetitive movements, or uneven pressure, it can result in a herniated disc. A prime example is lifting a heavy box. As you bend forward, you inadvertently put extreme pressure on one end of the disc, or discs, in your lower back. This causes the nucleus pulposus, or the “jelly” in the center of the disc, to push out of the fibrous rings that make up the outside of the disc. Remember, there isn't much room between the vertebrae, discs, and nerves. When this herniated material presses on the nerves, it results in pain and occasionally weakness.

What are the Treatment Options?

Herniated disc treatment options vary, depending on the severity of the injury. After proper diagnosis by a physician a treatment plan is usually formed. The rules for this aren't hard and fast. In some instances, conservative treatment is the primary recommendation. This usually includes physical therapy, exercise, and possibly traction. If these are unsuccessful, then a more direct approach may be used.

The type of herniated disc treatment used will depend on both the physician and the patient. Sometimes the physician will try an injection of cortisone, or similar drug, to decrease the inflammation and relieve the pain. If the injection isn't beneficial, surgery is usually the last option in treatment. There are traditional open back surgical procedures that involve a larger incision and a hospital stay. Laser spine surgery is another option that uses a smaller incision and a laser, usually done on an outpatient basis. There are considerations with both that should be discussed with a physician prior to deciding on the course of treatment.

  

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