Understanding Herniated Discs
- Posted on: Sep 15 2016
At the DFW Center for Spinal Disorders, we’re all about your back and the issues surrounding it. There is a fair amount of misunderstanding about the different problems that can occur with the spine. A herniated disc is one of those areas that aren’t really understood. But since we like our patients to know as much as possible about their spinal issues, here’s some information on herniated discs.
What are spinal discs?
The spinal discs get their name from their shape. They are flat and circular, shaped somewhat like a Frisbee. Each disc is about one inch wide and a quarter inch thick. The discs are rubbery pads located between the vertebrae. Their gelatinous interior is housed inside a strong, fibrous outer membrane. It’s the job of the discs to hold the vertebrae in place and to act as shock absorbers, permitting the spine to bend smoothly.
When we use the term shock absorber, that’s not to mean the disks are soft and pliable. They’re really only gel-like in children. But as we become adults, the blood supply to the discs stops and the soft inner material starts to thicken or harden. By middle age the discs are more akin to hard rubber than gel.
What happens to the discs?
You’ll hear people say “they slipped a disc.” This gives the impression that a disc can “slide” out of position. But there isn’t much room to move. They are firmly held between the vertebrae by ligaments that connect the surrounding muscles with the bones of the spine.
Problems with the discs really come from their hardening with age. As the discs become harder the protective lining becomes weaker, and problems follow. One interesting benefit of growing older is that our discs become less and less fluid. By the time we are 50 our discs no longer have fluid in their cores, so older people are much less likely to have discs herniate.
What is a herniated disc?
When a disc protrudes beyond its normal boundaries the outer membrane can crack. Or as the inner material swells, the disc can become distorted and bulge in places. At this point, the condition doesn’t have to become “herniated,” but if you don’t listen to the pain and don’t rest your back the membrane can rupture or tear. This allows the inner disc material to push outward, often pushing on a nerve in the spinal cord. Now you have a herniated disc.
In most cases, herniated discs will cause back pain in the lower back. Sometimes the pain will extend down the buttocks and into the legs. This is affecting the sciatic nerve.
What causes a herniated disc?
More often than not herniated discs can be traced to normal aging combined with activities such as lifting an object at a bad angle or falling on an icy sidewalk. They can also result from a violent injury such as a car crash or a sports injury.
How we treat them at the DFW Center for Spinal Disorders
Our goal is to avoid surgery, if at all possible, when treating herniated discs. We start with conservative treatments such as bed rest, anti-inflammatory and pain medications, hot and cold compresses, even muscle relaxants. Epidural injections of a corticosteroid may be administered to reduce nerve irritation and facilitate healing.
In about 10 percent of our herniated disc cases, however, the condition doesn’t respond to the above measures and surgery is required to alleviate the pain. The type of surgery we perform depends on where the herniated disc is located and the severity of the damage.
Schedule a consultation
Experiencing back pain? Call the team at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders at (817) 916-4685 and make an appointment at one of our seven locations. We’ll get you back on your feet again. The DFW Center for Spinal Disorders serves Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding areas.
Posted in: Herniated Disc