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A healthy spine is a critical puzzle piece in your overall health and wellbeing. Between each of your vertebrae is a disc, creating a soft, malleable cushion between the bones. These spongy discs have a tough exterior or shell with a cushiony interior, serving as shock-absorbers for your spine, and help to keep your spine properly aligned as you move through the multitude of spinal motions performed in day-to-day life. Disc herniation occurs when the soft, cushiony interior of the disc pushes out through its tough exterior. You might also have heard this referred to as a “slipped disc” or a “ruptured disc.”
The majority of herniated discs will take place in the lower back (the lumbar spine), although herniation in the neck (the cervical spine) is also possible. Disc herniation is a leading cause of sciatica and lower back pain and can be quite painful.
Most commonly, a herniated disc will result in symptoms such as:
Initially, this pain may last just a few days and then improve. As the condition worsens, the pain will remain for a longer duration of time.
This pain could be radiating or shooting pain and often worsens with certain levels of activity.
Numbness, tingling, or a feeling of “pins and needles” in the leg, foot, arm, or hand (depending on the location of the herniation).
This weakness may include disruptions in your ability to lift, push, or pull objects, or in your ability to walk normally. In severe cases, muscle atrophy may occur.
While rare, loss of control of the bowel or bladder may indicate the advanced stages of disc herniation and is considered an emergency that may require surgery.
Wear and tear on the discs of your spine is part of the natural aging process. As we age our discs become less pliable, retain less moisture, causing the distance between each of the vertebrae to narrow.
Other factors which contribute to the herniation of discs include:
The stress on your spine of supporting an unhealthy body weight could contribute to the degeneration of the discs in your spine. Maintaining a healthy body weight is important not just for the health of your spine, but that of your entire body.
Sitting for long periods of time, whether at work or at home, can be harmful to your spine. Maintaining an active lifestyle that includes exercise to strengthen your bones and muscles is imperative for spine health.
Men are more likely than women to suffer the effect of a herniated disc, specifically men between the ages of 30 and 50.
Lifting any object using one’s back muscles rather than the supportive muscles of the legs creates a risk of disc herniation. This is especially important with heavy objects.
Individuals who have more physically demanding jobs may have an increased risk of disc herniation.
Having a family history that includes degenerative disc diseases increases the chances that you will develop one or more herniated discs over the course of your lifetime.
Not all incidents of disc herniation require surgical intervention. Quite frequently, patients find relief in more conservative options that can include a combination of over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (known as NSAIDs), rest, and physical therapy.
If these treatments are ineffective, your spine surgeon may prescribe narcotics or steroidal injections to help ease the pain and encourage healing. If you experience a worsening of symptoms or your symptoms are not alleviated by these more conservative options, your Long Island spine surgeon may recommend surgery for your herniated disc.
The pain you experience as a result of disc herniation is a product of the herniated disc coming into contact with the spinal nerve. Removing a portion of the disc that is coming into contact with the spinal nerve to alleviate your pain is one surgical option. Removing the pressure from the nerve will remove the source of the pain and allow your body to begin to heal.
After surgery, you will be able to return home with a friend or family member the next day. Your back will feel stiff and sore.
The recovery period is generally about four weeks, although it may be shorter for people who follow a rehabilitation program. During recovery, do not lift anything over five pounds, twist, or bend over. Avoid sitting for periods over 45 minutes to an hour, as this can put a strain on the back.
Keep the small surgical tapes around the suture in place, and keep the area clean and dry. You may shower, but be sure to cover the incision area with a bandage and tape and avoid water hitting the wound. Do not take a bath until the wound is fully healed, about two weeks after your surgery.
You may begin driving again when you feel ready and are not taking narcotics. Start gradually and have another person with you at first while you drive, in case the pain flares up and you need help getting back home.
You may continue light work within 1-2 weeks after surgery. Wait until 4-6 weeks have passed before returning to sports or strenuous work.
Determining whether the source of your chronic back pain is disc herniation requires a thorough exam and diagnosis by your Long Island spine surgeon. After carefully reviewing your symptoms thoroughly, discussing the history of your spine health, and conducting a thorough physical exam your spine specialist will discuss your best path to a healthy recovery.
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