You’ve probably heard of a herniated disc, but unless you have one yourself, you may not understand exactly what it is. It’s actually a pretty simple-to-understand condition.
Our backs are made up of a series of bony vertebrae that have cushions in-between, and those cushions — which are known as “discs” — are rubbery and have a jelly-like center. Though the discs are strong enough to act as shock absorbers and have evolved to last a lifetime, either injury or aging (or lots of impact from walking and running) can cause them to wear down, slip out of place, or tear. When a tear happens, the soft center of the disc gets pushed out. Whatever the cause, when the disc is out of place or the center is pushed out, it causes all kinds of problems, especially when it comes into contact with spinal nerves.
The remarkable thing about having a herniated disc is that in a lot of cases, people who have them don’t even realize it!
Here’s what you need to know if you think you might have a herniated disc.
- In most cases, people get a herniated disc from normal wear and tear rather than from a major injury. If the disc has lost some of its natural flexibility as a result of aging, it becomes a lot more likely that a minor twist or pull could cause a hole or tear to appear without you even realizing that you’ve done anything.
- The lower back is called the lumbar spine, the middle of the back/chest part of the spine is called the thoracic spine, and the area around your neck is called the cervical spine. A herniated disc can happen anywhere in your back, as the cushioning discs lie between each of your vertebrae. They tend to happen more in the lower back than in the upper back because that’s where we tend to have the most motion and stress.
- You can have a herniated disc with absolutely no pain, or with excruciating pain. It all depends on whether any of the disc material comes into contact with a nerve and what part of your spine the herniated disc is located in. The more pressure the disc puts on a nerve, the more pain or discomfort you’ll feel, and the sensation you will have depends upon which nerves the disc material comes into contact with.
- Some people are more likely to get a herniated disc than others. Anybody can get a herniated disc, but some people are more susceptible than others. The more stress your back is under, the higher the chance of you having a problem, but a lot has to do with your age, your genetics, and other factors.
- You may not be able to tell that you have a herniated disc, but your physician will probably be able to figure it out just by asking a few questions and doing a quick physical exam. They may also order some type of test to confirm the diagnosis.
If you’ve been experiencing back or neck pain and you suspect that you might have a herniated disc, call our spine specialist in New Jersey to set up an appointment.