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Silent Signs of a Herniated Disc

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Spinal disc herniation as close-up detailed 3D Rendering

A herniated disc is a painful spine condition that occurs when the rubbery cushions between the spinal vertebrae become damaged. While some people may feel extreme discomfort due to the condition, others only experience mild symptoms that often go unnoticed.

So what are the symptoms of herniated discs? A slipped disc can happen somewhere in the neck area down to the lower back. It can cause numbness on one side of the body, numb hands, leg weakness, leg or arm pain, foot pain, and pain whenever you laugh, cough, or sneeze.

What Causes Herniated Discs?

Slipped or herniated disc is a common condition that affects around 5 to 20 people per 1000 adults every year. It occurs when the annulus (the outer part of the disc) is torn, allowing the nucleus (inner portion of the disc) to slip.

This spine condition becomes more common with age because of disc degeneration – the gradual wear and tear of the disc. As people get older, the spinal discs become more brittle and less flexible, growing more prone to ruptures, tears, strains, or twists. Herniated discs can also happen to people after a traumatic event involving a fall or those who lift heavy loads with their back muscles.

While anyone can get slipped discs, some people are more susceptible to the condition than others. Here are four risk factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing a herniated disc:

  1. Weight – Excess weight puts a strain on the lower back.
  2. Occupation – Jobs that require twisting, bending, pushing, pulling, and lifting may increase the risk of developing a slipped disc.
  3. Genetics – People may inherit a predisposition to slipped discs.
  4. Smoking Habit – Smoking limits the oxygen supplied to the spinal discs, making them more brittle.

Slipped discs can occur anywhere along the spine. The location of the herniated disc dictates which part of the body experiences pain. Here are the two types of herniated discs (depending on their position):

6 Silent Signs of Slipped Discs

Some patients with herniated discs may not experience symptoms as severe as others. The discomfort you feel will depend on the compression between the disc and an adjacent nerve – the more a disc pushes against the nerve, the more intense the pain might be.

Here are six symptoms you can check to see if you might have a herniated disc:

  1. Numbness on One Side of the Body – When the nerves become irritated, they may not show symptoms as you would expect. Instead of sharp pain, patients may experience aching, numbness, or burning on one side of the body. Some patients have also described the sensation as “feeling cold” along one side of the body’s trunk.
  2. Numb Hands – Since the discs affect how the signals are transmitted as it pushes against the nerve, the brain may interpret it in several ways – it may feel as though your hands are “numb” instead of painful. If you find it difficult to type on the computer because of numb hands, a herniated disc in the cervical spine may be the cause.
  3. Leg Weakness – Symptoms of herniated discs can also manifest in your legs, especially if they happened in the lumbar spine. Aside from occasional pain, one side of the legs may also feel weak or numb from time to time.
  4. Leg or Arm Pain – Your back is only one of the many places where pain may be felt if you have a herniated disc. This condition also affects other parts of the body, such as the arm, the leg, or along the trunk. The doctor may find a slipped disc in the cervical spine if you experience arm pain, but the herniated discs can also occur in the lumbar spine if there is leg pain.
  5. Foot Pain – Most cases of a herniated disc in the lumbar spine show that patients feel pain or weakness in their leg, but discomfort may also be felt on the foot.
  6. Pain Whenever You Laugh, Cough, or Sneeze – By doing these activities, the pressure felt in the abdomen can reverberate to the back. If you feel a shooting pain whenever laughing, sneezing, or coughing, it’s time to consult a doctor about herniated discs.

Treatments for Herniated Discs

Although it brings pain and discomfort to patients, the herniated disc is a treatable condition. A wide selection of treatment options can include conservative methods and surgical procedures. The right treatment will depend on the discomfort a patient experiences and the severity of the disc’s slip. 

Non-surgical Treatments

After a consultation with their doctor, most patients are prescribed nonsurgical and conservative treatment methods. They are often advised to perform painless activities for a few days to relieve the inflammation of the spinal nerve.

One common treatment for a herniated disc is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, which can be prescribed if the pain or discomfort is only mild to moderate. Epidural steroid injections may also be directly injected to the exact location of the slipped disc.

Another nonsurgical treatment is personalized physical therapy, which is designed after a doctor’s diagnosis and an in-depth evaluation by a therapist. The therapy includes stretching exercises, electrical muscle stimulation, ultrasound, ice and heat therapy, gentle massage, and pelvic traction. Muscle relaxants and pain medication can also be taken for a quicker recovery.

Surgical Procedures

If the pain or discomfort does not subside after attending physical therapy sessions and taking pain medications, the doctor may discuss surgical options with the patient. Many patients experience significant relief after the surgery, but this does not guarantee that the surgery will be successful for all patients.

Here are the two types of spine surgery that can be performed to relieve pain caused by herniated discs:

  1. Lumbar Spine Surgery – Lumbar laminotomy relieves sciatica and leg pain caused by creating a small incision through the skin and removing the damaged disc. To complete the procedure, spinal fusion surgery is also performed for spine stabilization.
  2. Cervical Spine Surgery – The surgery can be performed in front of the neck or at the back, depending on the damaged disc’s exact location. For a posterior (back of the neck) surgery, surgical fusion is not required. For the anterior (front of the neck) surgery, the spine has to be stabilized through an interbody device, screws, and cervical plate.

Read More:
Can Physical Therapy Resolve Herniated Disc Pain?
Do Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injections Work for a Herniated Lumbar Disc?

Spine Treatments and More at The Spine & Rehab Group

Here at The Spine & Rehab Group, we want our patients to reach their health goals with non-surgical treatments performed by our board-certified spine specialists. We do our best to provide our clients with a comprehensive and interventional approach for their back pain, back injuries, and other spine conditions.

Find out what treatment option is the best for your herniated disc by consulting with us here at The Spine & Rehab Group. Call us at (833) 847 – 7463 to book an appointment now.

Page Updated on Nov 10, 2022 by Dr. Hosny (Interventional Spine Specialist) of The Spine & Rehab Group
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