What Is a Herniated Disc? Everything You Need to Know
Many conditions cause symptoms of back pain. If you have aching, swelling, or tension in your lower back, you may have a problem with one of your spinal discs. What is a herniated disc, and how does this condition impact your quality of life? The following article will tell you everything you need to know about this common issue, including how herniated discs develop.
In this guide, you will also learn when to seek treatment, as well as some of the most useful and innovative treatment options for pain or discomfort associated with spinal disc herniation. Curavi™ low level laser therapy for lower back pain is an exciting new treatment for your symptoms. Read more to make the most informed care decisions, discover how to find relief, and decide when it is time to talk to a doctor.
Anatomy of a Herniated Disc
Spinal discs are a critical part of your spinal anatomy. These round, rubbery structures sit between each vertebra of the spine. While they help to hold your spine together, they also act as shock absorbers for the back. Shock absorption helps to prevent damage to your neck, shoulders, and lumbar area when you bend, twist, or suffer an accident.
When one of these discs becomes damaged, it can bulge or rupture inside your back, which is why the injury is also referred to as a ruptured or bulging disc. After a herniated disc occurs, some people will experience discomfort, chronic aches, or swelling. Others will have no pain and may not even know they have a herniated disc.
How a Herniated Disc Occurs
There are many possible reasons for a spinal disc herniation. You cannot avoid some of these factors, but others are a natural part of life. Every patient case is unique, so start by considering whether any of these issues have an impact on your spinal health. This information can help you to determine whether you can get by with at-home care or if you need to see a doctor.
Here are some of the most common reasons for a herniated disc:
- Aging: Some spinal disc herniations are a result of normal wear and tear. Discs become less flexible over time, making them more prone to rupture or tearing. Adults who have an age-related bulging disc but do not feel discomfort may not require treatment. If you do have pain in your lower back, do not hesitate to seek at-home therapies or a physician’s care. Staying active and keeping at a healthy weight are two of the most practical ways to reduce tension and pain from an age-related herniated disc.
- Repetitive motion: Some occupations require recurring bending or twisting. You may engage in repetitive activities when you play sports. The same movements can put extra stress on individual discs in your spine, which may lead to a herniation or rupture.
- Genetics: Your genes can make you more susceptible to getting a herniated disc. While you may not be able to prevent a predisposition to a spinal issue, you can take steps to protect your back. Reduce excess body weight and strengthen your back muscles with a combination of cardiovascular and strength exercises. Talk to your physician if you have questions about how your genes can affect your lower back health.
Smoking cigarettes enhances your risk of developing back problems, including spinal disc herniation. Smoking lessens the oxygen supply to your discs, which can make them break down more quickly. In rare cases, a traumatic accident can cause a herniated spinal disc. If you suffer an acute injury to your back, see a doctor as soon as possible. They can evaluate you for a variety of other back conditions and help you to reduce any swelling or pain that you encounter.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
If you do have symptoms with your herniated disc, they may be uncomfortable. Take note of each of the following signs of a spinal disc problem and see if they apply to you. If you have one or more symptoms, it is a good idea to see a doctor.
Watch for common signs of a herniated disc:
- Back pain: Herniated discs can occur in any part of the spine. Discomfort or swelling usually occurs in the same region as the bulging or ruptured disc. A herniation of a lumbar spinal disc may involve aches and pains in the lower back and legs. It is also possible to feel pain in the arms or discomfort on only one side of the body.
- Numbness: A numbness or tingling may occur in the affected area of the back. Some people only feel these types of sensations on one side of the body. Pain may or may not occur with symptoms of itching or numbness.
Diagnosing a Herniated Disc
There are some symptoms of a herniated disc that overlap with other back conditions, which may be serious. If you have an accident or are not feeling well, seek immediate medical care. It is especially critical to get help if feelings of numbness do not go away or if you have back pain accompanied by a fever. If you do not have an emergency, but you need relief from chronic back pain, make an appointment with your primary care physician or a spine specialist. They can evaluate you for a possible herniated disc, as well as a variety of other lower back conditions.
The following practices or procedures may be part of your spinal evaluation:
- Physical exam: When you see a doctor for your back problems, expect to have a physical exam and a review of your medical history. Your provider will also want to know what medications you are taking and if you have ever had surgery. This information will help them to decide if you can get by with conservative, minimally invasive treatments for back pain or if you need more tests to diagnose your condition.
- Neurological exam: Some doctors will perform a neurological exam. This painless evaluation tests for healthy reflexes and muscle strength. Your doctor may also ask you to walk back and forth or test your ability to feel light touches or vibrations.
- Imaging tests: If your doctor suspects you have a spinal disc herniation, he or she will not be able to tell by a physical exam alone. An imaging test may be required to make an accurate diagnosis. Some of the most commonly ordered tests include x-rays, CT scans, and MRI. You may also receive a myelogram, which involves injecting a die into your spinal fluid before x-ray imaging. The dye allows the technician to observe pressure on your spinal cord or nerves. This information may be critical in diagnosing multiple herniated discs or a combination of back conditions.
- Nerve tests: If your spine specialist thinks that a disc herniation has caused nerve damage, they may order a nerve test. The two most common tests for herniated discs are nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG). These tests help to measure how well an electrical impulse moves along your nerve tissue. It also allows the doctor to pinpoint the location of nerve damage so you can receive better treatment.
Treatments for Spinal Disc Herniation
While a herniated disc can be uncomfortable and impact your quality of life, there is hope for your condition. There are a variety of treatment options available for a herniated spinal disc in the lower back. Many do not involve the use of invasive techniques or surgery. Unless you have a severe issue with your spinal disc, your doctor will prefer you start with conservative treatments. A combination of therapies can make a difference in how you feel. They may even help to prevent future damage.
Some of the most common conservative treatments for a herniated disc include:
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist will provide you with the right exercises and stretches to relieve pressure on irritated nerves and relieve sore muscles. They can also teach you how to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles so you can avoid future aches and pains. Your doctor can recommend a reputable provider, as well as the number of sessions you should attend for maximum relief.
- Chiropractic manipulation: According to spine experts, chiropractic care for disc herniation is a non-invasive treatment that can help to reduce nerve irritation in the lumbar area. It may also relieve inflammation and chronic discomfort in the back and legs. Some of the most common techniques for this condition include flexion-distraction and pelvic blocking. Talk to a chiropractic professional about your care options.
- Heat and ice therapy: A heating pad or ice pack can help to soothe aching muscles. The right technique can also relieve swelling or inflammation in the lower back. Learn the difference between heat therapy and ice therapy to find the right approach to your condition.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medications: If you experience acute or episodic pain related to your herniated disc, your doctor may recommend OTC pain medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve swelling. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about the right medication, especially if you take prescriptions or any other OTC medicines.
- Prescription medicines: Physicians may prescribe more potent pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs for back pain or swelling. They can also give you oral steroids to decrease inflammation, which also help with pain relief. Some patients feel better after epidural injections, which are provided in your physician’s office.
- Low-level laser therapy for back pain: Photobiomodulation therapy is one of the most exciting treatments for back pain. Formerly often referred to as low level laser therapy (LLLT), this technology can help to reduce pain and swelling in your lower back safely. Laser light therapy for back pain modulates the inflammatory process for fast relief, which is why it is so helpful for different types of lumbar area discomfort. Some devices, such as Curavi™ low level laser light therapy belts, can be used in the comfort of your home.
Discovering Low Level Laser Therapy for Lower Back Pain
It is common to use conservative care for a herniated disc or another back condition. A combination of therapies can provide you with enhanced physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Curavi™ belts use 100% pure, medical-grade laser light, with no LED substitutes. Auto-timed 30-minute sessions make it easy to benefit from the technology.
Choose from pain relief in three models, including the CuraviUltra™ Belt, which provides great lower back coverage and 420 mW of laser energy output. Increase your coverage with the CuraviPlus™ Belt, offering excellent coverage and 800 mW of laser energy output. Get professional-grade coverage and 100 mW of pure laser light with the CuraviPro™ Belt, our premier device. Use any of the Curavi belts as often as needed to get fast, temporary relief from your aches or swelling.
Wear and tear may lead to a herniated disc, but you can feel better with the help of Curavi low level laser light therapy. Use your device as you rest and relax or take it with you while you travel. Wherever you go, your Curavi™ belt will be there for you.