A herniated disc—also called a pinched nerve or bulging disc—is a very common source of pain in the neck, lower back, arms, or legs. To understand why herniated discs can be so difficult to live with, it’s important to first understand how the spine works.
Anatomy of the Spine
The spine is made up of a series of individual bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae form the spinal column. Between each vertebrae are flat, round pads called intervertebral discs that act as absorbers. Each disc has a soft, gel-like center—called the nucleus pulposus—that is surrounded by a tough layer known as the annulus. A herniated disc occurs when pressure from the vertebrae above and below forces some or all of the nucleus pulposus through a weakened or torn part of the annulus.
When the herniated nucleus pulposus presses on the nerves near the disc, it typically causes serious pain. Herniated discs are more common in the lower part of the spine, though they can also occur in the cervical and thoracic spine.
How Is a Herniated Disc Diagnosed?
Some herniated discs—not all—are painful enough to present symptoms. In many cases though, patients will exhibit almost no symptoms at all. It’s only when they undergo imaging tests—like an MRI or an X-ray—to find other conditions that the problem is discovered.
For those who exhibit symptoms, a herniated disc can usually be diagnosed during an initial consultation. During the consultation, your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history, perform a physical exam, and he or she may order further testing if necessary.
While most herniated discs appear in the lower back, they can also occur in the neck. The most common signs and symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Arm or leg pain
- Numbness or tingling in the affected area
How Is a Herniated Disc Treated?
The initial treatment for a herniated disc is usually conservative and nonsurgical. The primary goal of this approach is to relieve pain and other symptoms that have resulted from the herniated disc.
To treat a herniated disc, your chiropractor will develop a treatment plan specific to your needs. Often times, your treatment plan will include a combination of different noninvasive treatments. A combination of the following conservative treatment options might be used to relieve discomfort and pain:
- Spinal adjustments or manipulations
- Ice and heat therapy
- Physical therapy
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
If the above nonsurgical treatment options are not effective in relieving pain, surgery may be considered as an option. Surgical procedures—like lumbar decompression surgery or microdiscectomy—are minimally invasive surgeries that are designed to relieve pressure on the nerves.
To learn more about herniated disc treatment or to schedule a consultation, please contact our office.