Spinal hernia: what you should understand about it

spinal hernia causes and treatment, measures
Photo by Natali_ Mis

Some people suffer from all kinds of aches and pains but do not go to the doctor for a check-up. We often shrug these aches and pains off as a result of sleeping in an awkward position, staying in one position for too long or ageing. What we don’t know is that a simple ache or pain may actually be due to a spinal hernia. A spinal hernia is a condition that affects the back.

Our spine consists of several bones which go from our neck to our buttocks. These bones are called vertebrae and they are separated from each other by small, oval-shaped discs. These discs absorb shocks and hard and sudden movements to protect the spine bones from damage and injury.

herniated spinal disks, spinal hernia
Photo by Designua

When a disc is herniated, it means that there is a tear in the tough rubbery exterior and the inner part is bulging out. This can cause moderate to severe pain, depending on the extent of the tear and the bulge.

In some cases, the bulge may or may not hit a nerve. If it does not hit a nerve, there could be minimal to no pain felt by the individual. If the herniated disc occurs near a nerve and touches the nerve, it may affect the entire area where the nerve travels.

Possible Causes of a Herniated Disc

There are several causes of a slipped disc:
A sudden or strained movement that ruptures the cushion in between the vertebrae

Discs degeneration due to old age
Discs degeneration due to a heredity predisposition
Overweight
Excessive smoking
Trauma due to an accident can also cause a spinal hernia but this rarely happens.

The gradual wear and tear of the discs happen as we grow older and this may be more advanced for individuals who are predisposed to it. There are some families who are more hard-hit than others when it comes to the deterioration of their bones and muscles. We experience less flexibility and muscle coordination as we age because ageing can aggravate the predisposition to a hernia. Individuals who are prone to this condition may suffer from a few herniated discs at a time along their spine.

Excess weight can contribute to the early degeneration of the spinal cushions. Although our bodies were made tough, there are limits to what it can take with regards to how heavy we are. Being overweight can affect the state of the spine because of the additional pressure pushing down on the vertebrae. This additional pressure can lead to discs which wear and tear easily, leading to the predisposition of a herniated disc. When bending and lifting, it is important that we are aware of the muscles that we should use and how to bend and lift properly.

Let’s see some recommendations on what movements and exercises to avoid if you have herniated disks:

What You May Feel

The symptoms of this condition are a few and basically related to each other. These include pain, numbness, stiffness and weakness in the affected area. Before the disc actually tears, there may be about of moderate low back pain which can grow more severe. The severity of the pain will depend on whether the bulge hits a nerve or not. There are two basic routes when a person has a slipped disc, namely in the cervical spine or the lumbar spine.

Occurrence in the cervical spine can result in pain in and around the neck area, spreading in between the shoulder blades. Due to nerve compression, in the upper part of the spine, there may also be pain or discomfort spreading to the fingers. Discomfort can come in the form of a tingling sensation or numbness. Certain positions when walking, sitting or lying in a prone position, can further increase the pain and discomfort.

Sciatica is a result of spinal hernia and can cause severe discomfort and pain starting from the buttocks, legs and down to the feet. More often than not, the pain occurs in just one side of the body. The occurrence of pain and discomfort in both legs is unheard of or very rare.

Healing Your Spinal Hernia

Spinal Herniation is quite easy to resolve. Most medical practitioners will prescribe medication such as an anti-inflammatory to help alleviate the pain as well as heal the herniation. Many will suggest slowing down with your activities for a couple of days. This means to limit extraneous movements but to continue with constant easy and flexible movement. In some cases, you may need to get physical therapy to help ease the pain and improve movement. Examples of physical therapy include hot and cold compresses, muscle stimulation with the use of electricity, massage, pelvic traction and stretching exercises.

muscle stimulation, pinal hernia
Photo by wavebreakmedia

Doctors and therapists usually recommend stretching and exercises to individuals who are predisposed to this condition. Exercises with less impact are more beneficial than those with a high level of impact. Examples of these exercises are yoga, walking, indoor cycling and swimming.

Since our spinal cushions were made to absorb the impact that our spine might incur, it is understandable that doctors will encourage low impact sports and forms of exercises. In our daily movement, we must be aware of each movement and do these in a slow and controlled manner.

Here is a good set of yoga exercises that will help you relieve the pain and

Other remedies to ease the discomfort may be a cream or ointment such as those with capsicum base (with healing properties) or menthol (for cooling properties). You may also use some ointments as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory.

Surgery is rare but may be necessary if there are complications. Complications may include ineffective medicines and therapy, no improvement in standing or walking despite the medication and therapy, or because of progressive numbness or weakness in the legs and feet. There are two kinds of surgery for a slipped disc and these depend on the location of the injury. 

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