An extruded (or herniated) disc is a degenerative condition where the gel-like nucleus within a spinal disc herniates out of its usual location and into the spinal column, pushing against and compressing spinal nerves or the spinal cord itself. This condition is chronic, has multiple possible causes, and often can be debilitating, especially if allowed to worsen. Fortunately, extruded disc treatments exist that are designed to address the condition and alleviate symptoms.
Extruded Disc Symptoms
Disc extrusions aren’t necessarily painful, and a minor case – wherein the disc bulges outward but does not rupture and release the nucleus. However, the herniated disc can compress or irritate a nearby spinal nerve, producing the typical chronic symptoms of a pinched nerve – these include pain, tingling, weakness, numbness, and difficulty in movement. The location and details of perceived symptoms vary depending on the spinal region and nerves in question – cervical herniations afflict the neck, shoulders, and arms; thoracic herniations most commonly affect the chest and upper back; lumbar herniations produce symptoms in the lower back and legs.
In severe cases, the cauda equina, a bundle of nerves branching out from the terminal end of the spine below the waist, can be significantly compressed by a disc extrusion, signaled by major pain, loss of sensation, and bladder or bowel dysfunction. This could compromise the function of the entire lower body and lead to permanent weakness or paralysis.
Extruded Disc Causes
The spinal discs, which cushion the vertebrae and permit flexibility of the spine, naturally grow brittle with age. As a result, the fibrous walls are susceptible to tears or ruptures forming, causing the nucleus of the disc to extrude outward. A sudden injury such as a fall or an impact to the back can create sufficient pressure to rupture a disc wall. However, more commonly, a relatively minor strain results in a herniated disc after wear and tear builds up sufficiently; this can happen, for instance, while lifting a heavy object if you use your back muscles instead of your legs and thighs, or if you twist or turn in such a way as to put pressure on a weakened disc.
Extruded Disc Risk Factors
While aging presents a risk of disc herniation on its own, certain factors can further aggravate spinal discs and magnify this risk. Physically demanding jobs or lifestyles, such as extensive manual labor or sports, produce additional wear on the discs, especially with repeated lifting, twisting, and sideways bending. Conversely, a sedentary lifestyle or excess body weight can weaken the discs through extra stress and insufficient flexibility. In some cases, there is a genetic predisposition to developing herniation due to innately weaker disc walls.
Extruded Disc Treatments
To begin treatment, an extruded herniated disc specialist must first identify the disc’s exact location, typically using an MRI or CT scan, and assess the patient’s symptoms and medical history. For most cases, patients experience reduced symptoms following a regimen of non-operative treatments for short-term and long-term relief – muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, and physical therapy, coupled with lifestyle changes such as dieting or education on healthy body mechanics.
For patients that don’t achieve relief within six to 12 weeks, or for patients suffering from significant neurological damage, the specialist may suggest surgery. Modern surgical treatments are designed to be minimally invasive, performed under general anesthesia using a microscope and microsurgical tools. A small skin incision is made in the back to access the afflicted disc with minimal disturbance to muscles directly; then the herniated portion of the disc is excised and removed. Many patients can be released on the same day or the next morning.
If you experience muscle pains, stiffness, and weakness, especially following an injury or strain in the back, contact the physicians at Superior Pain Relief for a consultation to set yourself on the path to recovery.