Herniated discs are one of the most common reasons for back pain and pain that radiates into the extremities. Each year, up to 2% of the population develops a problem with this spinal cushioning structure, with the most common group being men ages 30-50. Are you at risk?
At Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center, our team of expert board-certified neurosurgeons uses a variety of therapies to help our patients in Sandy Springs, College Park, and Bethlehem, Georgia, with herniated discs and a wide range of other spinal problems.
We believe that knowing your risk factors can help prevent herniated discs from forming, so we’ve put together this guide to inform you about the condition.
Adults have 24 bony vertebrae in their spine, stacked one on top of the other and extending from the base of the skull down to the tailbone. They’re connected with facet joints that allow you to bend and flex.
Between each pair of vertebrae lies an intervertebral disc, which prevents the bones from grating against each other and cushions the spine against the stresses of walking, jumping, and twisting.
Each disc contains a hard outer shell (annulus fibrosus) and a viscous interior (nucleus pulposus). Trauma from an injury or age-related degeneration can cause the annulus to rupture, allowing the nucleus to leak out into the spinal canal, the region that contains the spinal cord and cerebrospinal fluid.
If the nuclear material presses against nerve roots inside the column (called compression, impingement, or pinching), the nerve responds by generating pain signals that may travel along its path into the extremities. It may also lead to weakness and/or numbness in an arm or leg.
The spine is divided into four major sections: cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), lumbar (lower back), and iliosacral (tailbone). Herniated discs can happen anywhere along the spine, but they’re most common in the cervical and lumbar regions, as these areas undergo the most movement.
The most common and best-known symptom of a herniated disc is pain, which if a nerve root has been compressed, can be severe and unrelenting.
You usually feel it on just one side of your body, and it travels, or radiates, into an arm or leg, depending on which nerve is affected. This phenomenon is called radiculopathy.
A common example of radiculopathy is sciatica, an impingement of the sciatic nerve that exits the spinal column in the lumbar region. Though the root is in your lower back, you primarily feel the pain running through your buttocks and down the outside of one leg, sometimes reaching into your foot.
Other symptoms you may experience with a herniated disc include:
The exact nature of your symptoms depends on the location of the compressed nerve root and the force exerted on it.
There are five major risk factors for developing a herniated disc:
While you can’t change your risk for age-related disc degeneration, the other factors are within your control.
Are you experiencing pain that travels from your back to your extremities? You may well have a herniated disc. To get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, contact us at Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center in the Atlanta area to schedule an evaluation with one of our spine specialists.