While you may have a general idea of what the human spine looks like, it may surprise you to hear that are rubbery, spring-like discs separating the spiny vertebrae. These intervertebral discs act as cushions, preventing the bones from grinding against one another and allowing the spinal cord to be flexible. Degenerative diseases and physical trauma, such as injury after a car accident, can rupture the disks and cause the soft, gelatinous center to leak out – this is known as a herniation. A herniated disc can then press on a nerve, leading to pain and other symptoms.
Common symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Neck pain
- Back pain, especially in the lower back
- Pain, numbness, tingling, or burning in the shoulders, arms, or fingers
- Pain, numbness, tingling, or burning in the legs or toes
- Muscle weakness in the arms or legs
Possible symptoms differ depending on where in the spinal cord a herniation has occurred. For example, a herniated disc in the cervical (upper) spine is much more likely to affect the shoulders and arms while one in the lumbar (lower) spine is more likely to affect the buttocks and legs. The symptoms associated with herniated disc are usually localized to one side of the body, but can sometimes affect both sides.
Disc degeneration occurs naturally with age as a result of “wear-and-tear.” In fact, in some cases people with herniated discs experience very minor symptoms, or don’t experience symptoms at all. If you are diagnosed with a herniated disc, it can be treated in the following ways:
- Anti-inflammatories and over-the-counter pain medication
- Steroid injections
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care
Surgery may be recommended only if conservative measures fail to improve the symptoms caused by your herniated disc. If Dr. Li has determined that surgery is a potential course of treatment, he will recommend a procedure or procedures best suited to your individual needs. Common surgical procedures to treat herniated disc are ACDF and microdiscectomy.