An intervertebral disc is located in between the bones (vertebrae) of the spine to provide cushioning support and flexibility within the spine. However, these discs may become damaged and may tear or move out of place. A herniated disc, also known as a ruptured or slipped disc, is a common condition that may occur as a result of gradual wear and tear on the disc or from an injury to the spine that cracks or tears the disc and causes it to bulge or break open.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Patients with a herniated disc may experience pain, numbness and weakness in the affected area as the disc presses on the nearby nerve roots. The location of the affected disc determines the location of the pain. For example, a herniated disc in the lower back may cause pain through the buttock and down the leg, a condition known as sciatica.
Pain from a herniated disc may be worse during activity and then get better during rest. Anything that puts pressure on the nerve, such as coughing sneezing, sitting or bending forward, can cause pain to worsen. If the herniated disc does not touch any nerves, patients may not experience any pain from this condition.
Diagnosing a Herniated Disc
Your doctor can diagnose this condition after performing a physical examination and taking X-ray images of the affected area. He or she will also ask you questions about your symptoms in order to rule out other conditions and confirm the diagnosis.
Herniated Disc Treatment
Treatment for a herniated disc depends on the location and severity of the condition. In many cases, symptoms will improve on their own within a few weeks or months. Patients should rest, use a heating pad and perform therapeutic exercises in order to manage pain, in addition to taking pain medication prescribed by your doctor. Improving your posture may also be effective in relieving pain and helping a herniated disc heal.
Only the most severe cases will require surgery to treat a herniated disc. Surgery is usually reserved for patients whose pain does not improve over the course of a few months. Talk to your doctor about your surgical options if your pain does not seem to be getting better.
Lumbar Radiculopathy (Sciatica)
Lumbar radiculopathy is a disorder that is characterized by an irritation of the spinal nerve roots, which run from the lower back down each leg. Lumbar radiculopathy can be caused by many different factors, including a herniated or ruptured disc, bone spur, strenuous activity, an injury to the spine or osteoarthritis. Patients considered at the highest risk are older individuals and younger people who play contact sports or perform manual labor.
Lumbar radiculopathy is often referred to as sciatica since it commonly involves an inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, stretching from the spinal cord to the end of each leg. The condition usually develops gradually, as the nerve is compressed over time.
Causes of Lumbar Radiculopathy
Lumbar radiculopathy occurs when the spinal nerves have become irritated or compressed. Nerve compression may be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Herniated or ruptured spinal discs
- Bone spurs, which occur when extra bone forms around a weakened herniated disc
- Degenerative disc disease, often resulting from the aging process
- Congenital defects
- Stress caused by repetitive or strenuous activities
- Traumatic injury or event, such as a sports injury or car accident
- Progressive conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
Symptoms of Lumbar Radiculopathy
Lumbar radiculopathy usually causes pain that radiates down the leg to the calf or foot. Abrupt movements may cause this sciatic pain to worsen. Other common symptoms of the condition include:
- Feelings of numbness throughout the legs
- Weakness in the legs
- Tingling or burning sensation in the legs
- Loss of reflexes
- Discomfort with sudden movements, such as standing up after a long period of sitting