Todd J. Albert, MD is a leading expert in all spinal care and is exceptionally qualified in herniated discs. His practices main goal is to provide care and treatment for anyone suffering from spinal related issues.
What is an intervertebral disc?
The spine is made up of numerous bones called vertebrae. Discs are donut-shaped structures situated between each pair of vertebrae. Discs have a gel-like nucleus surrounded by strong capsules that hold the liquid center in place. Discs serve as:
- Shock absorbers to prevent friction between the bones of the spine
- Stabilizers that hold the bones of the spine in place
- Cartilaginous joint structures that allow the spine to flex
What is a herniated disc?
The gelatinous center of each spinal disc should remain fully contained within the outer layers of the disc. Injury or degeneration in the spine can cause the jelly-like substance within the disc to migrate outward. A herniated disc is an example of what is called a sequestration injury. It involves the leakage and separation of the nucleus from a disc. The soft disc matter can then press on a nearby nerve root, causing symptoms.
What Causes a Herniated Disc?
The most common factor leading to a herniated disc is age-related degeneration or the wear and tear on the spine that occurs over time. With age, the discs in the spine may become relatively dehydrated. This dehydration decreases their flexibility and increases the risk of tear or rupture during seemingly minor physical movements. In many cases, no cause can be pinpointed for a herniated disc.
Can Disc Degeneration Be Hereditary?
Yes, there are studies that suggest that a person with a family history of degenerative disc disease may have a greater risk of developing this same problem. Lifestyle habits like smoking and having poor posture may also present a risk for spinal problems. Larger bodies of research indicate that the natural aging process is the primary factor in degenerative disc disease.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Some people go months or years with a herniated disc and experience no symptoms. It is when the gelatinous substance from the disc comes into contact with a spinal nerve root that symptoms occur. These may include pain, tingling, numbness, or an electrical sensation around the spine or down the arms or legs, depending on where the herniation has occurred. Symptoms usually occur only on one side of the body.
Severe herniation can lead to pain or numbness in the perineum or loss of bladder or bowel control. These symptoms indicate a potentially serious condition and need to be addressed right away.
Diagnosing a Herniated Disc
The initial phase of treatment involves a thorough consultation and examination in our office. A complete medical history and recollection of a known injury can help your doctor identify the source of pain. In addition to the consultation and examination aspect of care, certain imaging tests may be ordered. MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is a non-invasive test that enables us to observe soft tissues including the intervertebral discs.
Surgical Treatment for Herniated Disc
Several techniques have been developed to treat herniated discs. These include:
- Laminoplasty. This restorative spine surgery can be performed on any of the three spinal segments. The procedure involves opening the lamina, the small section of bone at the back of the spinal cord, and insertion of titanium wires and spacers to reduce nerve compression.
- Discectomy. Herniated discs in the low back, or lumbar spine, may be repaired with microdiscectomy surgery. During this procedure, the herniated disc itself is modified to release pressure on the nerve root.
- Arthroplasty. Cervical discs that have been damaged may be treated with arthroplasty, a procedure in which the natural disc is completely replaced with an artificial disc. The objective of cervical arthroplasty is to reduce nerve pressure while preserving mobility in the neck.
- Spinal Fusion. This surgical technique is may be performed on the cervical or the lumbar spine. The procedure fuses bones together as needed to stabilize a spinal segment that has become compromised by degeneration or injury.
What Are the Risks of Herniated disc Surgery?
Spine surgeries have become much more conservative and safe over time, however, all surgical procedures carry risks that include:
- Anesthesia reaction
- Blood clots
- Nerve damage
- Re-injury of the disc after surgery
How Long Is the Recovery Process for Herniated Disc Repair?
Recovery from a herniated disc injury may vary based on the location of the slipped disc and the procedure performed. Most back surgeries for herniated disc repair require a two-week period of rest and limited activity followed by rehabilitation with physical therapy.