Herniated discs can hurt. Also known as slipped discs, they can cause severe pain in the neck, lower back, and the legs. There are several possible causes of herniated discs, and some may even be preventable. The following are some causes of herniated discs and what you can do to reduce your risk of developing the spinal condition.
What is a Herniated Disc?
Your spine is made up of vertebrae that are connected by facet joints that allow flexibility of movement. Between each pair of vertebrae are spongy discs encased in cartilage that act as shock absorbers. Each disc is filled with a jelly-like substance that gives them their ability to bounce back after being compressed when you move.
These discs keep the vertebrae from damaging each other and at the perfect distance from each other for flexibility when you move. They also protect the spinal cord nerves.
A disc is herniated when the cartilage on the outside of the disc is broken or torn and the soft inside protrudes out of the opening in the cartilage. A nerve near this herniation can become irritated and pinched, causing pain at that location that can radiate through the nerve to other parts of the body. A herniated disc is also sometimes referred to as a slipped disc or ruptured disc.
Causes of Herniated Discs
The most common cause of herniation is the general wear and tear that comes with age and the effects of gravity. Discs become compressed over time and lose some of their springiness. The cartilage develops weak spots that allow the interior to push out. Discs may also be damaged by an injury such as in a car accident. Just as arthritis is more likely to develop after a traumatic injury, discs and vertebrae affected by an injury may cause a herniation months or years after an accident. Sometimes a herniated disc occurs during a strenuous activity, such as lifting a heavy object in an unsafe way.
How You Can Protect Your Back
Obviously, there is no way to prevent gravity and aging. However, you can improve the strength and flexibility of your back with exercise and protect your spine from needless or excessive compression with some common-sense steps.
- Exercise. Work to strengthen the core muscles that support the spine to take some of the pressure off the vertebrae.
- Practice good posture. Whether you are sitting at a desk or upright, keep your spine aligned with shoulders back and head up. Discs are compressed by habitual slumping, especially in the neck and lower back.
- Lift properly. With your knees, not your back, right? Don’t lift anything that’s too heavy for you and try not to strain your back muscles.
- Maintain a health weight. Being overweight means added pressure on your back. A healthy weight gives your discs a chance to bounce back with less effort, so they last longer as you age. Losing excess weight can help reduce or eliminate back pain.
Although herniated discs are very common, many people do not experience any symptoms at all. It is important to find an experienced specialist if you have back pain, so that the condition is not misdiagnosed. A herniated disc is not always the source of pain and there may be a less obvious cause of your symptoms.
The board-certified neurologists at Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of spinal nerve pain. Our doctors see patients at four locations in Colorado: Lone Tree, Colorado Springs, Parker, and Aurora. For more than 15 years, Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery has provided expert diagnosis and treatment, especially minimally invasive spine surgery, for conditions affecting the brain, spine, and peripheral nerves. Call (303) 790-1800 to request an appointment today.