Among the most common causes of back pain a herniated disc - also referred to as a "slipped disc" - is a serious spinal condition that can worsen if not treated properly by a physician. The condition results from the annulus fibrosus (the outer disc layer) bulging into the spinal column and compressiong the contained nerves and spinal cord. In some instances, the nucleus pulposus (the soft interior if each disc) can actually cause the herniated disc to rupture, with the nucleus pulposus actually proceeding to leak into the body.
What is a Herniated Disc?
Each disc is a soft, malleable pad of tissue that separates each vertebrae in the spinal column. The discs provide the spinal column with flexibility, absorb shock, and prevent the hard vertebrae from coming into direct contact with one another. The spinal column encircles what is called the spinal canal, which is the space that encases much of the body's nervous system, as well as the spinal cord.
Each individual disc consists of the interior nucleus pulposus, as well as a tough exterior to contain the interior gel, but still provide the back with flexibility. After gradual or acute damage to a single disc, the nucleus may begin to breach the exterior of the disc, becoming a herniated disc. As the condition worsens, the disc might extend into the spinal canal and impose excess pressure on the local nervous system. Specifically, the patient will feel pressure on the nerve endings themselves, which can result in extreme pain for some patients.
Herniated Disc Symptoms
Still, not every sign of back pain is necessarily an indicator of a herniated disc. Roughly 80% of the population is afflicted with some type of back pain, but not all of those are due to herniation. However, if you have suffered injury to your back, and you believe this to be the cause of your pain, be sure to consult a physician immediately, as herniated discs are largely caused by this type of acute injury. If you suspect you may have developed a herniated disc, evaluate your condition for the following symptoms:
- Sharp pain extending from the buttocks down into one or both legs
- Weakness in a single leg
- A tingling sensation (similar to when a leg is "asleep")
- Numbness in a single leg
- Mild incontinence or loss of bowel control
Since the causes of a herniated disc can vary so greatly, it is always best for each patient to be treated on an individual basis. Dr. Batlle at Wellspine can evaluate your specific condition and prescribe the best treatment program for your particular injury. Depending on the severity of your pain and your herniated disc, your treatment/recovery can be completed within 4 to 6 weeks if treated properly.
Spine Surgery: Herniated Disc
If you are experiencing incontinence, loss of bowel control or pelvic/groin numbness, you may be experiencing cauda equina syndrome, and are advised to seek emergency help immediately. This may be treated through the following procedures:
- Laminectomy: A portion of the overlying bone above the patient's spinal canal is removed, along with the herniated disc.
- Micro Discectomy: The herniated disc is removed in small parts through a small incision, as opposed to doing a full open laminectomy.
- Spinal Fusion: The patient's vertebrae are fused together - either with metal rods or bone grafts - and is only performed on patients with advanced disc damage.