You can’t always prevent a spinal disc from herniating or rupturing, but there’s much you can do to correct bad habits that might have contributed to the malfunction.
Dr. Patrick Doherty of Yale Neurosurgery New London is a board-certified neurosurgeon who is highly regarded for his significant surgical skills and medical expertise in treating issues that affect the spine.
Whenever possible, however, Dr. Doherty prefers to prevent the painful conditions that bring patients to our busy practice in New London, Connecticut. Read what he says about herniated discs and how to help prevent them.
Intervertebral discs lie between the stacked bones (vertebrae) of the spine. The discs contain a soft, jelly-like center that’s surrounded by a tough, rubbery exterior. Spinal discs act as cushions that help prevent damage by keeping the vertebrae separated from one another when you stand, walk, and run.
Aging, injury, and other issues can cause the outer disc covering to dry, crack, or tear. This allows the soft center to “herniate” or push through the outer surface. Often, a herniated disc goes unnoticed and eventually heals on its own since it causes few, if any, symptoms.
In some cases, however, the bulging disc center presses on nearby nerves and results in significant pain and other symptoms that require treatment with oral medications, physical therapy, and possibly even back surgery.
There’s nothing you can do to prevent the aging process that’s often responsible for the disc degeneration that leads to a herniation.
There are many steps you can take, however, to help protect your back health and minimize damage to your spine.
These preventative measures include:
A herniated disc often responds well to conservative measures, such as a course of physical therapy that’s designed to improve your flexibility and strength as it relieves pain and restores mobility. To gain the full benefits of therapy, which include preventing future episodes of back pain, it’s important to follow your therapist’s directions carefully.
It almost sounds too simple, but proper posture improves blood flow, helps keep your nerves and blood vessels healthy, and supports the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in your back and neck. It also reduces wear and tear on the joints and discs of your spine and decreases your risk of back discomfort.
An exercise program that includes overall conditioning as well as strength training and stretching helps protect your back health. Low impact activities, such as swimming, walking, and cycling, provide excellent benefits without the pounding your spine and joints experience with running and other high-impact sports.
Activities like yoga and tai chi improve strength and flexibility and focus heavily on proper spinal alignment/posture as you move through the various poses. They’re also great stress relievers, which is beneficial to your back health.
Extra pounds, especially those around your waistline, alter the natural curves in your spine, increase pressure on your spinal discs, and strain the muscles and ligaments that support your back.
To lift heavy objects correctly, bend at your knees rather than your waist, tighten your abdominal muscles, and engage your leg muscles rather than those in your back. Maintain proper spinal alignment as you lift by keeping your head up, your back straight, and your feet shoulder width apart. Avoid twisting at the waist as you lift, and be sure to follow directions carefully if you’ve been given lifting restrictions.
If you’re experiencing persistent back or neck pain that’s interfering with your mobility and quality of life, schedule an evaluation with us at Yale Neurosurgery New London today.