Sharp lower back pain? Numbness or weakness in extremities? You may have a herniated disc.
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Treating herniated discs is our area of expertise.
Understanding what causes a herniated disc, also referred to as a disc herniation, ruptured disc or torn disc, is an important step in determining the best treatment options for your condition. For example, a doctor may recommend a different form of treatment for a herniated disc that developed gradually from weight gain as opposed to a herniated disc that developed suddenly from an auto accident. Take the time to research this condition so you can be prepared for your appointment with your doctor. At Laser Spine Orlando and Laser Spine Brevard, our caring team is also available to help you learn about your condition and the treatment options we have.
The beginnings of a herniated disc
The spinal column begins at the base of the skull and spans from the cervical spine in the neck through the thoracic spine in the middle back and into the lumbar spine in the lower back. Made up of 24 individual vertebral bodies and several fused vertebrae in the pelvic region, the spinal column is flexible enough to allow for the full range of motion in the neck and back that’s required for daily activity and also strong enough to support the weight of the upper body.
Serving as shock-absorbing cushions for the spine, discs are positioned between adjacent vertebrae to facilitate movement and reduce friction. Each disc has two parts: a thick exterior composed of collagen fiber (annulus fibrosus), which surrounds and contains an inner core of protein gel (nucleus pulposus). These components are high in water content and must remain well hydrated and pliable in order to function properly. For a variety of reasons, the discs can begin to deteriorate and dehydrate over time, becoming brittle and prone to breakage. If a fissure develops in a disc’s annulus fibrosus, some of the nucleus pulposus can pass through its compromised boundary. This condition is referred to as a herniated disc. Pain and other uncomfortable symptoms can develop if displaced inner disc material — which contains inflammatory proteins — irritates or pressures the disc wall, the spinal cord or a nearby nerve root.
Possible causes of a herniated disc
A herniated disc can result from a number of factors, including:
- The natural aging process. Due to the cumulative effects of an aging body and ongoing wear and tear on the spinal components, the discs gradually weaken and become more susceptible to rupture.
- Spinal trauma. Injuries that result from a forceful blow to the spine can cause immediate disc herniation.
- Repetitive stress. Sitting for prolonged periods or repeatedly lifting heavy objects can cause a series of small tears to develop in a disc’s outer wall, tears that can worsen over time and lead to full disc herniation.
- Unhealthy body weight. The spine must support the majority of the body’s weight, and the pressure of carrying extra pounds, particularly in the abdominal region, can strain and damage the spinal components.
- Poor nutrition. An unbalanced diet can lead to weight gain and also deprive the discs of the nutrients needed to remain supple and strong.
- Tobacco use. Smoking inhibits circulation and interferes with the delivery of essential nutrients throughout the body, including the spine. Cigarette smoke also contains a multitude of toxins that can affect the discs as well as other parts of the body.
- Genetics. A family history of disc herniation and other degenerative spine conditions can increase the likelihood a person will develop similar conditions.
Signs of a herniated disc
While a herniated disc does not always cause symptoms, the condition can create localized pain if the tear affects the small nerves located in the uppermost layers of the outer wall of the affected disc. Additionally, a variety of uncomfortable symptoms can develop if the disc wall or escaped nucleus pulposus exerts pressure on the spinal cord or a spinal nerve root. For instance, some people experience neck or back pain, radiating pain that travels through an arm or leg, muscle weakness, numbness or walking difficulties.
A closer look at herniated disc symptoms
A herniated disc can conceivably occur in the cervical, thoracic or lumbar region of the spine, although it is most likely to develop in the cervical and lumbar spine segments. That’s because the neck and lower back are both highly flexible and responsible for supporting significant body weight, which takes its toll over time. The thoracic spine, by comparison, is far more stable because it is attached to the rib cage.
The specific symptoms associated with a herniated disc also depend on the location of the disc degeneration. Most commonly, this condition is associated with localized pain near the origin of the tear in the disc wall, although symptoms can also extend throughout the body when displaced disc material irritates or compresses a nearby nerve root or the spinal cord. In fact, when nerve root or spinal cord compression occurs, it can result in symptoms that appear far from the origin of the problem, making diagnosis by a physician necessary for effective treatment.
Here are just a few examples of the symptoms that can develop as a result of a herniated disc:
- Cervical herniated disc. Localized pain in the neck; a pins-and-needles sensation, muscle weakness and numbness that travel through the shoulders, arms, hands or fingers; difficulty walking; a feeling of heaviness in the hands or feet; a decline in fine motor skills.
- Thoracic herniated disc. Upper back pain that can radiate into the chest or stomach; back stiffness and muscle weakness; symptoms caused by a herniated disc in the thoracic spine that can also be incorrectly attributed to a problem with the heart, gastrointestinal tract or lungs.
- Lumbar herniated disc. Discomfort in the lower back; pain that travels into the lower body; pain in one or both legs; weakness or tingling in the lower extremities; diminished reflexes and muscle spasms; in rare cases a loss of bowel or bladder control, which can indicate cauda equina syndrome, a condition that requires immediate medical attention.
The symptoms of a herniated disc can vary widely depending on both the location and severity of the damaged disc, and many of the symptoms commonly associated with this condition can also be explained by the presence of additional spinal degeneration, including facet disease, spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis. In order to effectively manage the symptoms of a herniated disc, the exact cause, location and severity of the condition has to be identified by a medical professional. If you’ve been diagnosed with a herniated disc and you are considering surgery after exhausting conservative treatments, contact Laser Spine Orlando or Laser Spine Brevard today.
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I want to thank Dr. Molloy and the staff at Laser Spine Orlando for giving me my life back. Before seeing them I could barely walk and my pain didn't allow me to do anything around the house. After my surgery, I was pain-free within a week and was able to care for my husband without the thought of having to lie down and rest due to pain. -Margaret W
The staff at Laser Spine Orlando and Dr. Molloy are extremely professional and puts the needs of the patient ahead of themselves. I was able to get an appointment right away with Dr. Molloy after filling out a form online and within two weeks was able to get a much-needed surgery to help relieve my back and leg pain. I love these guys. -Patricia C.
Why Choose Laser Spine Orlando
Laser Spine Orlando believes in a comprehensive approach to spine pain care. Each patient is treated as an individual with personalized treatment and therapy to achieve their personal goals.
30,000 Successful Surgeries
To put it simply...a lot. Our surgeons have performed over 15,000 successful spine procedures. Each one is board certified and extremely skilled in fighting neck and back pain. We are the leaders in Laser Spine Surgery.
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The best choice for patients suffering from neck and back pain. This form of minimally invasive surgery provides an alternative to regular surgical procedures when other treatment methods have not produced the desired results. Laser techniques offer faster recovery times with fewer complications.
Pain Free Living
That's why we are here. We have a duty to the patient to do everything we can to eliminate neck and back pain. Our newest location in Orlando is equipped to handle the most complex cases. Our surgeons are highly specialized and focused on eliminating chronic pain and getting patients back to a pain free life.