Here at Yale Neurosurgery New London, Patrick Doherty, MD, and our group provide the least invasive, most effective treatments available for issues affecting your spine. We’re also committed to patient-centered care, prioritizing education that helps you make informed decisions about your health.
The following information can help you manage your risk factors for herniated discs.
What is a herniated disc?
A disc herniation, also called a ruptured or bulging disc, affects the cushioning structure (intervertebral disc) that sits between the stacked vertebrae in your spine. A ruptured or herniated disc occurs when the disc’s gel-like center (nucleus) pushes through the outer covering (annulus).
The spine includes 25 discs: seven in the cervical (neck) spine, 12 in the thoracic spine (mid to upper back), five lumbar (low back) discs, and one disc in the sacral spine. Any of these discs are vulnerable to herniation, but the condition most often occurs in the lower back or neck.
What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?
Symptoms of a herniated disc depend on where the rupture occurs and the direction of the bulge. For instance, a bulge that pushes into the spinal canal and irritates nerves may cause neuropathic (nerve) pain that travels along the affected nerve’s distribution.
A herniated disc affecting nerves in the cervical spine may lead to neck, shoulder, head, and arm symptoms. Lumbar disc herniation can cause symptoms in the buttocks, hips, and backs of the legs.
Neuropathic symptoms can include:
- Sharp, burning pain
- Electric shock-type sensations
- Tingling and numbness
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty with balance and mobility
On the other hand, if the bulge or herniation doesn’t encroach on the spinal canal, you may not have any symptoms other than an intermittent backache at the site of the damaged disc.
Unfortunately, over time, the discs and ligaments supporting the spine may stiffen or lose their supportive characteristics. This creates spinal instability that may cause significant pain and decreased mobility.
What are the signs that I may develop a herniated disc?
A herniated disc may develop in response to an injury or blow that damages the disc. Usually, however, they’re related to:
- Aging, which causes discs to thin, dry, and crack
- Excess weight, which strains the discs, muscles, joints, and ligaments supporting the spine
- Smoking, which reduces available blood oxygen discs rely on for good health
- Occupations or sports activities that require repetitive lifting, pushing, or twisting
- Sedentary lifestyle
Long-haul trucking or long car trips also increase your risk of developing herniated discs due to the vibrations from the engine and stress resulting from prolonged sitting.
How can I reduce my risk of a herniated disc?
While you can’t do anything about aging, which is a leading risk factor for herniated discs, you can make lifestyle changes that help protect your spinal health. For example, back-friendly exercise routines, healthy nutrition, smoking cessation, and weight loss can reduce your risks.
Dr. Doherty also encourages you to schedule a visit if you’re experiencing symptoms of a herniated disc or you have back or neck pain that doesn’t improve within a few days. Treatments for a herniated disc generally start with physical therapy, medication, and other conservative measures.
If your condition requires surgical treatment, Dr. Doherty specializes in minimally invasive spine surgeries that relieve pain and restore healthy mobility.
Schedule an evaluation at Yale Neurosurgery New London today for personalized care that fits your needs.