Herniated Discs – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

People are born with 33 vertebrae, but by the time they reach adulthood, some of the ones in the lower back fuse together, leaving only 24. Between each disc there is a cushion reminiscent of a jelly doughnut with a hard outside and a soft, squishy jelly like material on the inside of the doughnut. Healthy and normally functioning discs hold the spine together and also act as “shock absorbers” which allows the spine to have some flexibility.

What is a Herniated Disc

When the cushion gets a crack in it, some of the jelly-like substance oozes out and irritates nearby nerves which may cause pain. The condition is referred to by several names. Herniated disc is the most common term, but ruptured disc, bulging disc and slipped disc are terms that are also used to refer to the condition.  Most herniated discs are found in the lumbar spine with the second most common area being the neck.

Herniated Disc Symptoms

Some people have a herniated disc and do not even know it. Others suffer debilitating and excruciating pain to a degree that they are unable to even participate in daily life activities. Some common symptoms include:

  • Leg or arm pain. The oozing gel-like substance may irritate the nerves to the legs or arms which causes pain. If the herniated disc is in the lumbar region, there may be leg pain. If it is in the neck, the pain may radiate down the arm. Often, the pain is increased when a person coughs, sneezes, laughs or moves into certain positions.
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm or leg, depending on which disc is herniated.
  • Weakness in muscles that are affected by the irritated nerves become weak making it difficult to hold an item if the arms are affected. If legs are affected a person may stumble and have balance issues.
  • Stabbing pains that radiate down the leg.
  • Difficulty in urinating or defecating.

Causes of Causes

The most common causes of herniated discs are:

  • The aging process which results in the deterioration of the discs which crack and cause the gel to ooze into the nerves
  • Lifting heavy objects using the back muscles instead of the leg muscles
  • Repetitive movements that cause strain to the back. This is often the result of sports activities
  • Sudden twisting or bending motion
  • Car accidents

Diagnosis

In many cases, diagnosis is made based on a person’s physical symptoms, medical history and responses to neurological testing such as testing reflexes, walking ability and response to pin pricks of the extremities. If the medical professional suspects the pain may be caused by something other than a herniated disc, other tests will be done to rule out other causes and confirm the diagnosis of herniated disc. These include imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans or a myelogram. Nerve tests may also be conducted.

Herniated Disc Treatment

Treatment ranges from simple home remedies, like alternating heat and cold to the affected area, to surgery.  Some rest is recommended, but too much rest is not good. Other possible treatments, depending on the severity of the pain, include:

  • Medications ranging from over-the-counter pain relievers to narcotics. Specific nerve pain medications may be required and, for severe pain, cortisone injections directly into the nerve area may provide pain relief
  • Physical therapy
  • Bracing the area of the affected disc
  • Ultrasound
  • Nerve stimulation
  • Surgery, which is usually a last resort when all other treatments have been tried and been ineffective in relieving pain, or when severe symptoms arise, such as problems with urinating and defecating or inability to stand or walk

How an Attorney Can Help

If you suffer from herniated disc pain that arose following an accident, particularly a car accident, you may have a claim for damages against a person who negligently caused your injury. These are complex cases and the opposing party’s insurer often argues that your herniated disc was not caused by the accident. A lot depends on the nature of the impact, where you were sitting in the vehicle at the time of the impact and other issues that may be discovered during the investigatory process. Our experienced attorneys will review the facts of your case with you and help you decide how to proceed. Contact our offices today for a free consultation of your legal options