5 Risk Factors That Can Lead to a Herniated Disc

Herniated discs are a relatively common cause of spine pain, especially in the lower back and the neck — the two most flexible areas of the spine. Researchers estimate about 2% of adults experience a herniated disc each year in the United States.

Located between each pair of spine bones (vertebrae), your discs are spongy cushions that act as shock absorbers for your spine, helping your spine stay flexible and supple. A herniated disc is a disc that slips out of its normal position, extending beyond the edge of the vertebrae where it can become compressed or “pinched” by the bones. 

Herniated discs often press on nerves as they exit your spine. That’s why many people with herniated discs have pain in their legs or arms, in addition to pain around the disc itself.

While herniated discs can’t always be avoided, there are some risk factors that increase their likelihood. As a top-ranked pain management physician, Jonathan Gentile, MD, wants you to recognize these five risk factors, so you can take steps to improve your spine health and prevent painful herniated discs. 

#1: Being overweight

When you’re overweight, those extra pounds throw off your body’s balance, putting extra strain on your back muscles (especially in your lower back). Over time, the extra strain can increase wear and tear on the disc fibers, increasing the risk that the discs will slip out of place or rupture.

#2: Being sedentary

Sitting seems like a relaxing way to rest your back, but actually, too much sitting strains your back muscles and weakens them over time. Your back needs regular exercise to keep the muscles that support it strong and flexible. 

If you spend hours sitting in front of a computer or TV, your spine muscles will become stiff and sore, putting extra strain on your vertebrae and discs. The problem is even worse if you slouch or hunch over while you’re sitting.

#3: Older age

Wrinkles aren’t the only physical change that goes hand-in-hand with aging. Your spine changes, too — especially the spongy discs. As you get older, your discs lose some of their natural sponginess, and the vertebrae on either side move closer together. These and other spine changes alter the way your spine moves and flexes, ultimately making it easier for discs to slip out of place (or herniate).

#4: Back strain at work

If your job requires a lot of repetitive lifting, reaching, standing, or sitting, your spine will wind up taking the brunt of all that added movement and pressure. That means that over time, your risk of developing a herniated disc (along with other spine problems) increases.

#5: Smoking

Smoking is bad for your lungs and your heart, and it’s bad for your back, too. Research shows a direct correlation between smoking and degenerative disc disease, especially in the lower back and the neck. Smoking interferes with circulation needed to maintain disc health, and it also inhibits the development of new disc cells that help prevent degenerative changes. 

Herniated discs require prompt medical treatment to prevent long-term symptoms, including nerve damage. If you have back pain or neck pain, don’t ignore it. Call our offices in Carme, Kokomo, or Indianapolis, Indiana, or use our online form to book an appointment today.

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