Learn More About Herniated Disc/Discogenic Pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common physical complaints. Between 80 and 90 percent of adults will experience it at some point in their lives. While muscle strains and other issues can sometimes be the cause of the pain, in other cases, the pain can be traced back to a herniated disc. While herniated discs are often called "slipped discs," this is a misnomer. Discs cannot slip, as they are attached to each adjacent vertebra. However, they can bulge, twist or rupture.

What is a Herniated Disc?

Between each of your vertebrae, there are discs that act as shock absorbers. They are about a half an inch thick and filled with a jelly-like material called nucleus puplosus. When this center material pushes against the outer membrane of the discs, the resulting pressure can cause back pain. The material can also push out of the disc, leading to inflamed nerves and sciatic pain. While herniated discs are most common in the lower back, they can occur between any vertebrae.

Herniated Disc Symptoms

The most common symptom that indicates a herniated disc in your lumbar region is lower back pain. This pain may last for several days and then improve. In some cases, you may also experience pain, weakness, and numbness in your legs. Pain from a herniated disc may move from the back down into the buttocks and the legs. You may also feel pain radiating down into your foot.

Herniated discs in your upper back or neck may cause headaches or pain in the back of your neck.

Causes of Herniated Discs

  • Degeneration that can come with aging.
  • Acute or repetitive stress injury.
  • Engaging in sports like weightlifting.
  • Sudden strains or increased pressure on the back.
  • Twisting movements.
  • Repetitive motions that cause stress on the vertebrae.
  • Poor posture or long periods of time spent seated.

How is a Herniated Disc Diagnosed?

To determine whether you are suffering from a herniated disc, your doctor will look at your medical history, perform a physical exam and may order diagnostic tests. Tests that can diagnose a herniated disc include CT scans, MRIs, and contrast scans.

In some cases, people can have herniated discs without suffering any related pain. If multiple herniated discs are detected using the methods above, a discogram may be ordered. This test involves injecting dye into a herniated disc. The dye will outline tears or imperfections that may be causing pain.

Herniated Disc Treatment Options

In many cases, a herniated disc will heal on its own within a couple of weeks. Rest with periodic 10 to 20-minute walks can help keep pain and stiffness at bay. Over the counter NSAID medication can help with pain and inflammation. Your doctor may also prescribe muscle relaxers to reduce painful tension. Traction or braces to support the spine may also be used. While there is no strong evidence that heat or ice work, some people do find relief from either while recovering from a herniated disc.

In some cases, herniated discs do not self-correct and medical intervention is needed to help you heal. Some may not wish to wait the weeks or months it could take for pain to subside. If the pain of a herniated disc persists for more than six weeks, medical treatment or surgery can help. Among the treatments for herniated discs:

  • Epidural steroid injections. Your doctor will use a small needle to inject a medication into the epidural layer outside the spine.
  • Transforaminal epidural injections. Similar to the process above, this procedure targets the sciatic nerves. As a result, a larger amount of medication is delivered to the affected area.
  • Spinal cord stimulation (SCS). This treatment involves delivering an electrical pulse to the spine, which blocks communication between the brain and neurons in the affected area. SCS is frequently used when there is too much inflammation around and in the nerves for the two treatments above.
  • Biacuplasty. A type of radiofrequency ablation, this treatment heals painful nerves inside the affected discs.
  • Microdiscectomy. This option involves removing some of the damaged material around the nerves. It's considered a good option for when there is too much inflammation for epidural injections.

In some cases, herniated discs persist even when the above treatments have been performed. Surgery may be an option when other pain management efforts have failed.

Request a Consultation

At Performance & Regenerative Medicine, we offer the pain management care that you need to get past the pain and get back to your active lifestyle. Do you think you may have a herniated disc? Get in touch for a consultation today.