Back pain is an enormous problem for adults everywhere. Studies indicate that back pain is the most prominent reason for missed work days and degraded quality of life. Chronic pain can feel frustrating and also confusing because there are so many potential causes and treatment options that it can be difficult to pin down any clear path to progress. Of the many potential causes of back pain, a herniated disc is quite common. We want to spotlight this condition here.
How One Little Disc Can Cause So Much Pain
Spinal discs are small, spongy structures that sit between each vertebra. Each disc plays an important role that ultimately supports flexibility and range of motion. Each prevents two bones from coming together and causing friction. As a whole, the discs protect the spinal column from jostling during sudden impact; even walking can impact the spine. A herniated disc is one in which a tear has occurred in the fibrous outer shell of the structure. This allows the gel-like matter at the core of the disc to seep out. Herniation may do two things. First, it may decrease the space between two vertebrae. Second, it can irritate the nerves that are situated near the disc through contact with the gelatinous fluid.
How does a disc become herniated?
There is a tendency to assume that all back problems stem from some type of injury. We imagine sporting accidents or car crashes or a fall on the ice. While these are all potential ways in which a back injury may occur, the trigger for a herniated disc is often much more benign. In many cases of disc herniation, it is nothing more than the natural aging process and years of wear and tear on the spine that causes the disc to degrade and eventually tear. Even standing or sitting for long periods is wear and tear on the spine.
Treating a Herniated Disc
A common misconception that people still have about chronic back pain is that their doctor will want to do surgery to relieve their discomfort. This isn’t the general path that is taken today. There are several steps that may be suggested before jumping to the surgery conclusion. First, a thorough medical examination must be obtained. Imaging and evaluation can identify the true cause of back pain. When a herniated disc is diagnosed, treatment may begin with medication to reduce inflammation, rest, and home remedies like applying heat and cold alternately. Heat loosens tight muscles and cold reduces pain. A doctor may also prescribe physical therapy to treat a herniated disc. Physical therapy involves specific exercises to fortify the strength of muscles that support the spine. Additionally, this type of rehabilitation improves flexibility. Only when these more conservative methods of care have failed to improve comfort is surgery considered.