A Guide to Understanding Herniated Discs and Associated Complications

Your spinal column consists of a series of bones stacked onto each other. The discs cushion the back vertebrae. These circular discs have a tough annulus around the nucleus and look like pillows. Discs between spinal vertebrae act as shock absorbers for spinal bones. A tear or rupture in the annulus pushes a disc nucleus fragment into the spinal canal, causing a herniated disc. For the spinal nerve and displaced herniated disc fragment, the spinal canal is too small. Since the disc is displaced, spinal nerves are compressed, causing significant pain.

Herniated discs can occur at any age, but they are more common in people 30–50. This illness can cause severe pain, numbness, and weakness, lowering quality of life. This disorder can occur in any part of the spine, although it is more common in the lower back (lumbar spine). It can also occur in the cervical spine (neck). The area in which pain is experienced is dependent on which part of the spine is affected.

Causes of a herniated disc

A herniated disc occurs when the annulus fibrosus weakens or tears, allowing the nucleus pulposus to protrude. This can occur due to old age. Certain movements can also result in a herniated disc. While exerting force to raise an object, a disc can become displaced due to twisting or turning movements. Exerting significant force on the lower back when lifting an object of considerable size and weight can lead to the displacement of a spinal disc, often known as a slipped disc. You may be susceptible to herniated discs if you have a strenuous occupation that entails heavy lifting.

Obese individuals are more prone to experiencing a slipped disc due to the added strain on their spinal discs. Inadequate muscle strength and a sedentary lifestyle might also be factors that lead to the occurrence of a herniated disc.

Complications associated with an untreated herniated disc

Untreated, a herniated disc can cause irreversible nerve damage. Occasionally, a herniated disc might obstruct nerve signals to the cauda equina nerves in the lower back and legs. In this case, there is a possibility of experiencing a loss of control over bowel or bladder functions.

Although the symptoms of a slipped disc may show signs of improvement, they can also deteriorate. If you are no longer able to engage in the activities you were previously capable of, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Symptoms of a herniated disc

Herniated disc symptoms vary by location and degree. One of the characteristic symptoms is pain, which can vary from slight discomfort to intense anguish. This pain usually extends from the lower back or neck to the arms or legs along the damaged nerve. A herniated disc in the lumbar spine (lower back) can induce sciatica, whereas one in the cervical spine (neck) can cause shoulder and arm pain. Common symptoms include discomfort, numbness, tingling, and weakness. A disc herniation in the lumbar spine can compress the sciatic nerve, causing buttocks, leg, and foot numbness or tingling. Weak muscles can make daily tasks difficult and affect coordination and balance.

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