Do you struggle with pain and weakness from a herniated disc? This condition can happen in your neck or back, and the pain can be enough to slow you down or can even prevent you from being able to do your normal day to day activities.
Understanding what factors that can lead to having a herniated disc can help you make healthy self-care choices to minimize your symptoms now, and prevent the development of any more herniated discs in the future.
Our physicians at Southern Pain & Spine Specialists want to help you understand why you might be struggling with a herniated or slipped disc.
So before we discuss the risk factors and preventative tips, let’s review some essential information you need to know about this condition.
What is a herniated disc?
Your spine is made up of a series of bones, known as vertebrae. In between the bones are rubbery cushions known as spinal discs.
Each cushion has a tough exterior and a soft center. Sometimes, the center of the disc pushes out through a weakened or torn area of the outside layer, causing what is known as a slipped or herniated disc.
When you have a slipped disc, the nerves around the disc are irritated. This irritation causes numbness, weakness, or pain in your arms or legs, depending on the location of the disc in your spine.
Symptoms of a slipped disc include:
- pain and numbness, most commonly on one side of the body
- pain that extends to your arms or legs
- pain that worsens at night or with certain movements
- pain that worsens after standing or sitting
- pain when walking short distances
- unexplained muscle weakness
- tingling, aching, or burning sensations in the affected area
The types of pain can vary from person to person. See your doctor if your pain results in numbness or tingling that affects your ability to control your muscles.
Areas of herniation
Lower back (lumbar region)
If the herniated disk is in the lower back, the pain often affects the buttocks, thighs, and calves.
Pain that travels along the path of the sciatic nerve, from the buttocks and down the legs, is known as sciatica.
Neck (cervical region)
If the problem occurs in the neck, pain is more likely in the shoulders and arms.
A serious herniation in the neck region can also cause stiffness, weakness, and numbness in the legs.
Middle back (thoracic region)
A herniated disk in the middle back is likely to cause pain around the location of the herniation. Pain may travel around the rib cage to the front of the body.
This is the least common source area for disk herniation.
Why do I have a herniated disc?
Several factors might have led to your condition. The good news about most of these risk factors is that you can make lifestyle changes to minimize the risk of developing another herniated disc and lessen the progression of the herniation you already have.
Being overweight or obese is bad for your overall health. Every extra pound of weight adds strain to the muscles and ligaments of the back; and to compensate for extra weight, the spine tends to become tilted and stressed unevenly.
Excess stomach weight typically pulls the pelvis forward (increasing lumbar lordosis), leading to too much strain on your discs leading to herniation. Even after you’ve been diagnosed with a herniated disc, carrying excess weight can further damage the disc and worsen your symptoms.
Wear and tear
As you age, you have a normal amount of wear and tear in your spine, which carries and distributes your weight during normal daily activities, such as walking, bending, or twisting.
All of this movement combined with the discs losing some of their fluid content as you age places you at a higher risk of experiencing a slipped disc.
You might be surprised to learn that smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs. Nicotine and cigarettes can lead to degenerative disc disease, where the discs are weakened and no longer provide cushioning between the bones.
As the bones rub together, you might experience improper alignment of the bones and arthritic changes that lead to herniated discs.
Your spine can suffer injury. Any movement that shifts your spine back and forth quickly can cause the discs to move. Examples of sudden, jerking movements that might place too much pressure on your spine include car accidents, sports-related injuries, or lifting objects incorrectly.
If you work in a physically demanding job, you might be at a higher risk of having a herniated disc. Positions where you bend, twist, lift, or push heavy objects can lead to a slipped disc, especially if you perform these activities repeatedly.
Ways to avoid a Herniated Disc
Knowing how to prevent slipped disc problems includes lifestyle changes. Since most herniated discs occur in the neck or lower back, many of the prevention tips focus on these areas.
The following are some easy or basic tips for reducing the risks.
Always consult with your physician.
1. Improve your posture.
Maintaining an aligned spine is always important, whether sitting, standing, walking or running. A sustained poor posture puts pressure on some of the spine’s discs, especially in the neck and lower back.
Try to keep the head up, shoulders back and spine straight.
2. Exercise Regularly.
Include in a regular exercise plan with exercises that strengthen your back, leg muscles, tendons, ligaments and core muscles.
Also, try to include aerobic exercise because it improves the cardiovascular system, which then helps keep tissues healthy.
Flexibility exercises also help to keep the back muscles and ligaments loose and stretched.
Before starting a self-healing exercise program, be sure to consult with a physician. A medical evaluation can determine which disc is herniated, and that in turn will determine the best treatment path.
3. Learn to lift items properly.
All too often, people try to lift heavy items by bending at the waist. This means the back is being used for lifting when it should be the powerful leg muscles.
To help prevent disc herniation try to lift by bending the knees and stand up while keeping the back aligned. This uses the force from the legs for lifting.
4. Maintain a healthy weight.
As we mentioned above, being overweight or obese puts excessive pressure and strain on the back and knees. It also may contribute to poor posture.
By maintaining a healthy weight, you are effectively reducing strain on your spinal column and back muscles.
5. Manage stress.
Stress can lead to tight muscles and ligaments, which in turn increases pressure on the spine.
To help prevent back injuries you can regularly do stress relieving activities to prevent the physical toll that ongoing stress can take on the body.
6. Change positions frequently.
Sitting or standing for hours at a time without changing positions can put pressure on the spine in general; and on certain spinal discs in particular. Medical research has found that people should try to move and stretch at least every 30 minutes when they’re not sleeping.
7. Stop smoking!
As we mentioned above, smoking (cigarettes and e-cigarettes) deprives healthy tissue of nutrients and oxygen, increasing the risk of developing spinal disc degeneration and osteoporosis.
Also, a heavy smoker can go into heavy coughing bouts which can increase pressure on the spine which could lead to a herniation.
By educating yourself more about disc herniation you can take proactive steps and see a physician before an injury gets worse, and also take preventative measures to protect your spine from future injury.
At Southern Pain & Spine Specialists, we have a strong commitment to patient education and maximizing pain-free mobility. We want you to know what your options are, and how you can get back to living a pain free life.
Get out of pain!
Get help fast! If you’re suffering from prolonged back pain, you may be experiencing symptoms of a herniated disc. The best thing to do is schedule a consultation with Dr. Alamarie, at Southern Pain & Spine Specialists to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
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