What Is a Herniated Disc?
A herniated disc is a condition that can involve any part of the spine, but is most common in the neck (cervical spine) or the lower back (lumbar spine). The spine is made up of a column of stacked bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated by flat, gel-like discs that provide cushioning between the bones. The discs are made of a tough outer layer, called the annulus fibrosis, and a jelly-type center, called the nucleus pulposus. Over time, the disc begins to deteriorate, most commonly by drying out and shrinking. When this happens, the disc's outer wall can become weak and tear, allowing the disc’s center to push out onto very sensitive spinal nerves, leading to pain and irritation. A herniated disc is a degenerative condition that can strike anyone.
What Are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?
The symptoms of herniated disc vary widely based upon severity and location on the spine. Some patients even experience no pain. The symptoms Dr. Singh and Dr. Phillips often see include:
- Tingling in one arm or shoulder
- Dull or acute pain in the muscles between the neck and shoulder (trapezius muscles)
- Shooting pain that extends down the arm
- Headaches in the back of the head
- Weakness in one arm or shoulder (with major weakness, seek help immediately)
- Increased pain brought on by moving the neck in a certain direction
- Loss of bowel or bladder control (seek help immediately from a board-certified spine surgeon since this could be a serious problem)
What Are the Causes of a Herniated Disc?
Typically, a single distinct incident leads to a herniated or ruptured disc, but the single movement may be years in the making. As we age, the discs in our spine lose water and elasticity, which can lead to a rupture, often from a simple twisting of the spine or other minor strain. Family history may play a role as well.
What Are the Treatments for a Herniated Disc?
Most herniated disc patients do not require surgery. In these cases, the condition can be resolved through simple measures. These treatments may be prescribed in combination or individually, depending on your particular case, to ease irritation of the nerve and alleviate pain:
- Reduced activity, including a neck collar
- Physical therapy or exercise
- Pain medication, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS)
- Muscle relaxants
- Cold compresses or ice
- Gentle heat
- Steroid injections or "nerve blocks"
Surgery to Treat Cervical Herniated Disc
If conservative treatments fail to provide adequate pain relief or a patient continues to suffer from loss of function, spinal surgery may be recommended to repair the herniated disc. A large percentage of patients treated by Dr. Kern Singh and Dr. Frank Phillips at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Minimally Invasive Spine Institute experience significant relief from pain after surgery.
Surgical procedures Dr. Singh or Dr. Phillips may consider include:
- Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)
- Artificial Cervical Disc Replacement
- Cervical Laminotomy/foraminotomy and possibly a posterior discectomy