Herniated Disk - what is it and how can I fix it?
A Spinal Disk is a special kind of joint located between the larger spinal bones (vertebrae) that provide a cushion for your spine. In the diagram above, you can see the disk (the white/grey) located in between the larger vertebral bones of your spine. The disks have a soft center that is covered with layers of material that is harder and serves as protection for the disk. When a disk herniates the softer inside material pushes out through the outer layers of the disk. When I describe a disk to someone that does not know what it is, I normally tell them to think of a “jelly doughnut” and when a disk becomes herniated the “jelly” comes out of the “doughnut”.
Surrounding each individual disk and the entire spine are many nerves that if compromised can cause local pain in your spine and even more serious radiculopathy (numbness, pins and needles) into your arms and hands (if the disk injury is in your neck) or into your legs and feet (if the disk injury is in your back). This type of symptom should be taken seriously and you should seek the help of a medical professional should symptoms like this occur.
Someone can herniate a disk in several ways. It is possible when you lift something too heavy and use your back to lift it instead of using your legs, you could put too much pressure on your spine causing the disk to herniate. Very infrequently, you could sneeze and the pressure from the sneeze could herniate a disk. The most common way to herniate a disk from what we see is from a traumatic event such as a car crash. When one is involved in a rear end car crash there is a tremendous amount of force that is applied to your spine. Even in smaller crashes, the head is whipped back and then forward. During this motion of the head and spine, it is very common to herniate a disk.
There are many different types of treatment for a herniated disk. Immediately after the traumatic event that caused the disk injury, one should rest and ice the area of concern. Icing can lessen the swelling and provide some pain relief to spine injury. Some people may get pain relief from the use of medications. Medications can ease the pain from the disk injury and in some cases if the disk herniation is also causing nerve pain, your physician may want to consider the use of special pain medication. If muscle spasm is also occurring (which is typical following a car crash) muscle relaxers may be a medication you and your physician may want to consider.
The next step one can take to help with a herniated disk is to seek the help of a professional physical therapist or a chiropractor. The therapist and chiropractor can begin to do manual therapy, electric muscle stimulation, stretching and strength exercises in order to lessen the pain and provide you with pain relief.
During or after your physical therapy regimen, you may want to consider getting injections for pain relief. One type of injection is called a facet injection which is a fairly simple procedure where the doctor injects medication with a small needle into the painful area to promote pain relief. Another type of injection called a spinal epidural is a bit more invasive. Discuss these options with your physician so that you have a full understanding of the procedures and what may work best for you.
The last resort should you not obtain pain relief from your herniated disk by the above methods would be for you to consider spinal surgery. Surgery should only be considered if the treatments have not worked and/or your symptoms become so severe you are not able to conduct your daily life without considerable pain and discomfort. The surgical procedure most often performed for a herniated disk is called a discectomy. A surgeon goes in during a discectomy and removes part or the entire disk that is causing the pressure on the nerve in hopes of relieving the pain that the herniated disk is causing. If the entire disk is removed, the surgeon may have to replace the missing disk with bone from your hip or with another hard material and then fuse the vertebral bodies above and below the missing disk so they become one. This procedure is called a discectomy with fusion.
After a surgery, you should consider physical therapy, strengthening exercises and stretching to keep your spine in good health. You may also want to discuss with your physician whether you should be limiting your physical activities so that you do not cause further problems with your spine at the surgical area.
If you or someone you know has a herniated disk caused by a car crash and has any questions, please call us for a free consultation at 561-266-9191 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.