Disc disease affects thousands of Americans yearly, and your risk of developing a herniated disc is even greater if you’re older. Treating herniated discs is important for preventing the problem from worsening —but recognizing the symptoms can be difficult if you’ve never had one before.
Jonathan Gentile, MD, is skilled in diagnosing and treating herniated discs in patients at his practices in Carmel, Kokomo, and Indianapolis, Indiana. Here’s what he wants you to know about herniated discs, including why they happen and what symptoms you should look for.
Quick facts about herniated discs
Discs are spongy “dividers” located between each pair of vertebrae. These discs act like little shock absorbers for your spine, protecting it from jolts and impacts. They also help your spine stay flexible.
Normally, the border of the vertebrae contains the border of a disc within. Sometimes, a disc bulges or herniates, causing a portion of the disc to extend beyond the edges of the bones. The bulging part of the disc often presses on nerves as they exit the spine.
Anyone can develop a herniated disc, but they’re more common among people who:
- Are older
- Are overweight
- Are pregnant
- Do a lot of repetitive bending or lifting
- Don’t get enough physical activity
- Have a fall or other accident
Less commonly, underlying spine-related conditions, like disc disease, increase the risk for herniated discs, too.
Herniated discs: Symptoms to look for
As you might expect, a herniated disc can cause pain in your back near the area of the bulging disc. This pain can be sharp or dull, and it can happen whether you’re active or at rest. You might have burning sensations or a tingling or numbing sensation near the area of the disc, as well.
Because the disc often presses on nerves, you can also have symptoms anywhere along the nerve pathway. If a disc herniates in your neck, you might have symptoms in your arms or even your hands. If the herniated disc is in your lower back, your symptoms can occur in your legs, buttocks, and feet.
In addition to sharp bursts of pain in those areas, you can have symptoms like:
- Dull, persistent aching
- Muscle weakness
- Problems with coordination
You may even have difficulty controlling your bladder or bowels with severe lower back disc herniation.
Unlike some other types of back pain that tend to feel better when you rest, lying down often makes herniated disc pain worse. In fact, a dull, throbbing pain that prevents you from sleeping is one of the hallmark symptoms of a herniated disc.
Relief for your back pain
Most herniated discs can be treated conservatively with activity modification, oral medicines, corticosteroid injections, and physical therapy. The key is to seek treatment early, ideally at the first sign of symptoms, to prevent the problem from worsening.
To learn more about disc treatment or to find out what’s causing your back pain, book an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Gentile today.