When it comes to going about your day, few things will disrupt your normal, daily routine like a sudden jolt of back pain. Often, this pain can seemingly appear out of nowhere, rendering once easy tasks like tying your shoes nearly impossible without intense pain in the neck or back. While the localized pain may make it relatively simple to know just where it hurts, determining whether or not it’s a herniated disc is a somewhat more difficult process.
Situated medially within the body, the vertebral column is one of the most important skeletal formations in humans. Known more commonly as the “spine,” the column is made up of 33 individual bones of various sizes, each of a different size and shape. Beginning with the cervical region and ending with the coccyx, the curved spine is what allows you to stand upright, twist and bend, all while protecting the spinal cord. In order to provide maximum support and prevent the vertebra from rubbing against each other, each piece of bone is separated from the others by a thin disc. These discs provide shock support, and are vital to proper spinal function.
Unfortunately, like any other part of the body, portions of the vertebral column can become damaged over time or through certain activities. When one of the discs located between the vertebra becomes damaged, a portion of it may “bulge” out between the spinal column and into a nearby bundle of nerves. This, in turn, causes immense pain and discomfort.
Although a herniated disc can sometimes feel like typical back pain, there are several important symptoms to watch out for. Knowing what differentiates a herniated disc from a similar injury will enable you to seek out the proper treatment and minimize your discomfort.
Due to the location of discs throughout the spinal column, the location of pain and the type of symptoms can vary based on the nerves effected. For example, if pain is accompanied by tingling, weakness in the back or neck, or numbness, it may be indicative of a herniated disc. For herniated discs in the lower lumbar region, this feeling of numbness and weakness can extend far beyond the back or neck, and it is not uncommon for these symptoms to appear in the buttocks, leg or even the foot. Injuries in the upper region of the lumbar spine are often characterized by pain in the groin or front of the thigh.
Signs and Symptoms
The type and location of your symptoms depend on the location and direction of the herniated disc, and the amount of pressure on nearby nerves. Herniated discs within the neck can cause pain in the shoulders, arms and even hands. Like the lower back, it’s not unusual to experience a tingling or numb sensation to go along with the pain. Often, an injury of this type is due to poor posture while standing or seated.
A herniated disc may cause no pain at all. Or, it can cause any of the following symptoms:
- Pain in the neck, back, low back, arms, or legs
- Inability to bend or rotate the neck or back
- Numbness or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, legs, or feet
- Weakness in the arms or legs
- Limping when walking
- Increased pain when coughing, sneezing, reaching, or sitting
- Inability to stand up straight; being “stuck” in a position, such as stooped forward or leaning to the side
- Difficulty getting up from a chair
- Inability to remain in 1 position for a long period of time, such as sitting or standing, due to pain
- Pain that is worse in the morning
In individuals older than 50 years, the gelatin-like core of the disc (NP) can become dry and less soft, making it less likely to leak, or herniate. This deterioration, however, can lead to other conditions that cause pain, such as degenerative disc disease, and degenerative joint disease. Your physical therapist will work with other health care professionals to determine your correct diagnosis.
Having a herniated disc can put an immediate stop to many of your favorite activities or important tasks. Physical therapy is proved to be one of the best treatments for herniated discs. If you think you may be suffering from the symptoms of a herniated disc, please contact us for a FREE assessment and set yourself on the path for relief.