A herniated disc is a medical problem involving an issue with one of the discs located between the vertebrae (bones) in your spine. The human spine is made up of around 26 bones called vertebrae. The discs being referred to here are plate-like structures that are filled with a gel-like substance. The purpose of these discs is to provide cushioning to the vertebrae and also to ensure that the vertebrae stay in place.
However, as one ages, the discs begin to degenerate and break down, which makes them quite sensitive and unable to carry out their intended function. This can result in severe pain for the affected individual.
A herniated disc is one where the gel-like substance begins to leak from a crack made in the disc.
Herniated discs can cause heavy irritation to the nerves, which translates into pain, weakness, and even numbness in either of the legs or arms. However, it isn’t always necessary to go in for a surgery to treat a herniated disc.
Symptoms associated with a herniated disc tend to vary according to the actual level of the spine where the herniation takes place. The impact on the nerve tissue also plays a role here. In some cases, there may be no clear symptoms at all except for pain at the exact level of the spine where the herniation has occurred.
If the herniation is significant, the disc tissue can end up pressing on the spinal nerves located adjacent to the affected disc. This leads to shooting pain across the distribution of the spinal nerve. The pain is often felt on one side of the body and is medically known as sciatica.
To illustrate, if the disc herniation occurs between the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae, it can lead to shooting pain down the buttock and all the way to the leg. Apart from pain, there can be a tingling sensation felt, along with numbness. The pain tends to subside when lying down. However, it becomes worse when the affected individual stands. The condition popularly goes by the name of pinched nerve. In the case of a cervical spine disc herniation, the patient could experience a stiff neck and pain in one arm.
How Is a Herniated Disc Diagnosed?
One of the first things that your doctor will look for is the above mentioned symptoms. A neurological exam will show abnormal reflexes, indicating a possible disc herniation. He will also look for signs of pain by asking you to raise your legs while lying down. This test is known as a positive straight leg raising test. You might sense something abnormal in your leg or foot while doing this test. A range of blood tests will also be carried out to identify possible infection or inflammation.
An X-ray will also be ordered to determine wear and tear in the spine. However, the X-ray will not show the affected disc. To observe the disc, you will be asked to undergo a CT or MRI scan. A CT myelogram may be ordered to further understand the areas affected by the herniated disc. An EMG, or electromyogram, may also be ordered to determine which nerves are affected.
Contact Our Office
If you suspect that you might have a herniated disc, it’s best to immediately arrange a consultation with Dr. Kevin James, a skilled board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon. To schedule a consultation, contact our office today.