The spinal column is made up of 33 separate bones called vertebrae.
The vertebrae are separated by spongy discs which act like shock absorbers to keep the spine flexible. If a disc is damaged or breaks open it can bulge and push into the spinal canal .This is what is called a herniated disc.
For the most part, herniated discs happen in the lower back, although in more rare instances they can occur in the neck and in the upper back. One of the main causes of a herniated disc is wear and tear due to age. As we age the discs will deteriorate and dry out, and will not as flexible as they once was.
Any stress to the lower back area caused by maybe lifting a heavy object, digging the garden, or simply twisting or bending can cause a herniated disc
When there is an injury to the spine, the disc can have cracks or tears in it. This can cause the gel like substance inside the disc to push into the spinal canal - a narrow space between the spine and the spinal cord.
This area is where the nerves that serve your lower body run, so if the space for these nerves are reduced, due to a bulging or herniated disc, the nerves will become compressed and cause problems to the areas of the body they are serving.
Symptoms of a herniated disc can vary depending on the degree of bulge. When the nerves become compressed they do not work correctly and can send abnormal signals to the brain, this causes muscle spasm and pain.
When there is pressure on the nerves it usually causes an electric shock type of pain, the shock can go down your legs if the herniated disc is in your lower back or it can go down your arms if it is in your neck or upper back.
The most common symptoms of a herniated disc are that of sciatica, as the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed. Much of the pain will be felt in the buttocks or legs. More severe cases of a herniated disc may cause bowel or bladder problems. If you are suffering from bladder or bowel problems, you should seek medical attention as quickly as possible.
There are many treatment options for a herniated disc, the most effective being aerobic exercises and specific back strengthening exercises.
The type of treatment for herniated disc will depend on many things such as the patient's current activity level, the patient's age, the severity of the symptoms the patient is having and whether the pain is getting worse. More often than not herniated disc treatment begins small and increase as the patient's pain reduces.
Herniated disc treatments can be as simple as ice and heat wraps, together with an anti-inflammatory or pain relief medicine. If the simple treatments do not work initially then the next step could be physical therapy. However, a good lower back pain exercise program is proven to give immediate and preventative relief.
In conclusion, although a herniated disc can be serious, and cause considerable pain, there are many things that you can do to get fast relief, and prevent future flare ups. If you think you may have a herniated disc it is best to see your doctor as soon as possible, who will advise on the best course of treatment.
Paul Osborne is the executive editor of BackpainBeaten.com A website dedicated to lower back pain relief, and includes information advice and tips, including the symptoms and effective treatments of Sciatica, Spinal Stenosis, Herniated Discs and most other back pain complaints.