Is there anything worse than chronic back pain? Plus the aches, sharp stings when you move wrong, and pain is frustrating, annoying, and can make it impossible to do the simplest of daily tasks. Sometimes just getting out of bed is a tall order. For many Americans, their back pain is caused by a disc condition in the spine.
Your spinal column is composed of vertebrae – bones that comprise the spinal column. The vertebrae have an opening called the spinal canal that contains the spinal cord. Between each of these vertebrae are your intervertebral discs. These discs act like shock absorbers for your vertebrae. They keep your vertebrae from bone-on-bone impact during movement and activity and protect nerves as they exit the spinal column and branch out into the body. These discs are flat, round and consist of a soft gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus with a tough outer cartilage layer called the annulus.
What Causes Disc Pain?
As we age, these ever-important discs can deteriorate and become more susceptible to injury, strain, or disease. The 3 most common disc conditions that we see at Oasis Orthopedic & Spine are:
- Disc Degeneration: Disc degeneration is an age-related condition that normally progresses over time. With aging, the cartilage of a spinal disc becomes weak and brittle. Discs can develop cracks and tears and might even break into fragments. The gel-like substance in the core of the discs may leak through the cracks. This causes the discs to flatten, much like a deflated tire. This makes them less effective in providing cushion. The spine becomes less stable from the loss of padding in between vertebrae.
- Bulging Disc: A spine injury or trauma can cause a bulging disc, but most often it’s a result of aging. When the outer layer weakens, the core can ‘spill’ through the outer layer. This forms the bulge. When the bulge aggravates surrounding nerves, it can cause terrible pain. This aggravation typically results in nerve compression and nerve inflammation.
- Herniated Disc: A herniated disc is most common in the lumbar, or lower portion of the spine, but can occur in any part of the spine. When the gel-like center of a disc slips through a weakened area of the tough outer layer, you may have a herniated disc. The leak can put pressure on nearby nerves causing irritation that results in pain.
“I always tell my patients, the disc is like a jelly donut. If the jelly comes out, it’s a herniated disc. A herniated disc can push on nerves and cause inflammation of the nerves. And that’s the reason why you can get pain shooting down into the legs. If everything is just bulging back or pushing back, it’s a bulging disc.”
–Dr. Sujal Patel, MD, Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon
Can You Repair Disc Damage?
Short answer, yes. It is possible to repair disc damage but the type of disc condition you have, plus the extent of damage, are just two of the many factors that play a role in determining what type of treatment you need for your disc pain.
“Usually, surgical intervention is the last resort. Patients would first undergo treatment such as physical therapy or chiropractic treatment. They would then take anti-inflammatories to calm inflammation. If the pain still is not going away, patients are recommended to undergo epidural treatments such as epidural injections that decrease the inflammation around the nerves. If that fails, then the next step would be a minimally invasive procedure such as a microdiscectomy. If I see a patient that has excruciating low back and leg pain, and that has significant neurological deficits, meaning weakness in the legs, and they have issues with going to the bathroom, that can be very emergent. Usually you get an MRI right away. A lot of times there’s large disc herniation pushing on nerves to the point that you’re having these neurological deficits.”
–Dr. Sujal Patel, MD, Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon
Keeping Your Discs Healthy
One of the first steps in dealing with your disc pain is to think about your lifestyle. Do you sit at a desk for 10 hours a day? Do you slouch? Do you get enough physical activity? Taking care of your back is a daily effort. Here are a few things to think about when you want to do something about your disc pain:
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Those who are overweight are at greater risk of experiencing disc pain. Extra body weight adds extra strain to the structures in your back, especially your discs. The additional pressure on your disc can result in disc compression, disc herniation, and pressure on nearby nerves which can further lead to sciatica pain.
- Exercise to keep your discs healthy. There are some stretches and exercises that can help reduce or alleviate back pain. Strengthening the muscles in your back can help to reduce the pressure on the intervertebral disc which can help reduce pain.
- Avoid prolonged sitting. Sitting in one position for a long period of time is not healthy. It can lead to spine misalignment, muscle weakness, constant strain, and disc stress.
- Maintain good posture. When you slouch for long periods of time, such as sitting at a desk, the structures in your back are strained, which can lead to disc pain. Here are a few tips to help fight poor posture.
- Get enough good sleep. Poor sleep can make your back pain worse. Insufficient sleep can lead to more inflammation and thus more pain. Additionally, sleep deprivation can leave you feeling more sensitive to pain. Getting enough good sleep can help ease your back pain. Here are a few things to consider when sleeping with disc pain.
What To Do About Disc Pain
Ignoring pain in your back is not a good idea. It can lead to worsening conditions, more symptoms, and even more damage to the components in your back. When disc pain is accompanied by numbness, tingling, weakness, unexplained weight loss or fever, or the inability to control bladder or bowel movements, you could have a serious condition. Whether your disc pain is acute, chronic, moderate, or severe, you deserve to live a life without pain. The spine experts at Oasis Orthopedic & Spine can help you get to the root problem causing your pain and provide a treatment plan that is specific to you. Don’t give disc pain the opportunity to get worse. Get a head start by requesting an appointment below.
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