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What is a Herniated Disc?

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is a common condition that affects one of the spinal discs that separate the vertebrae in your backbone. A spinal disc is a cushion of soft material encased in a harder exterior and it protects the vertebrae from shocks and jolts. If the disc is damaged, some of the soft interior of the disc spills out through the crack and can push on nerves. When the nerves are irritated you feel pain. You are most likely to experience a herniated disc in the lower back but this condition also affects the neck.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?

Many herniated discs are painful:

  • Arm or leg pain. A herniated disc in the lower back produces pain in the thigh, buttocks and calf. Your foot may also be painful. If the herniated disc is in the neck then the pain will radiate along the shoulder and the arm.

A herniated disc may also result in numbness or tingling in the area of the body affected by the trapped or irritated nerves. Muscles linked to the nerves are weakened, making it difficult to lift items or to walk properly.

Some herniated discs produce no pain. But if you suffer from long-lasting pain, or weakness, see a pain management professional for treatment.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

Disc problems are often due to the aging process – wear and tear on the discs is called disc degeneration, and the discs become less flexible due to a drop in water content as you get older. When you lift a heavy item, or twist and turn when you lift something, you may damage the discs. You are more likely to suffer from a herniated disc when you are overweight and the excess weight puts pressure on your spinal discs. You may also have a genetic predisposition to herniated discs. If you lift heavy objects in your job you are more likely to suffer from this painful condition.

Physical Therapy for a Herniated Disc

Physical therapy is useful for reducing the pain of a herniated disc through gentle and controlled exercise, postural improvements, heat or ice treatment, traction or bracing, ultrasound or electrical stimulation. You can help heal your herniated disc by taking part in gentle exercise but avoiding activities that worsen the pain, and by managing your stress levels and your weight.


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