Herniated discs are among the most common causes of neck and back pain. You can get a herniated disc after lifting something too heavy or from a high-impact fall. But acute injuries aren’t the most common cause of a herniated disc.
Most people develop herniated discs because of degenerative changes that affect the structure of the disc as you get older, making it more vulnerable to bulging, tears, and herniation. If you have disc degeneration, minor strains can cause a herniated disc.
At Douglas J. Abeles MD & Associates in Castro Valley, California, our multidisciplinary team works together, helping our patients with neck or back pain from a herniated disc get long-term relief.
In this month’s blog, we want to talk about herniated discs and the lesser-known causes of this common spine injury.
About your herniated disc
A herniated disc is a spine injury that affects an intervertebral disc, the round, gel-like cushion that separates each vertebral bone in the spine. If you have a herniated disc, it means the gel-like center of the disc has pushed through a crack in the tough exterior, herniating out from its normal position.
The displaced disc material may compress or irritate the spinal cord or a spinal nerve, causing pain. You can develop a herniated disc in any part of the spine, but they most often occur in the cervical (neck) and lumber (lower back) spine.
Causes of herniated discs
You may injure an intervertebral disc during a fall, when lifting something too heavy, or following a high-impact car accident, but trauma isn’t the most common cause of herniated discs.
Most people develop the spine injury as they get older because of natural degeneration of the disc that occurs over time. Your discs lose moisture and shrink with age, making them more susceptible to herniation.
Though you can’t stop the degenerative process, there are factors that may speed things up, such as carrying excess body weight, repetitive neck or back movements, or a job that requires heavy lifting.
Researchers also theorize that some people may have a genetic predisposition for herniated discs, since they tend to run in families.
Can a herniated disc heal?
Whether from an acute injury or degeneration, a herniated disc may heal on its own over time. But many factors influence the healing process, including age, severity of the disc damage, and medical history.
To support the healing process, we recommend activity modification and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage pain and inflammation. For our patients with herniated discs, we also offer alternative pain management therapies like acupuncture and chiropractic care.
If you continue to have pain after a few weeks of at-home management, we refer you to our physical therapy department for a personalized exercise and rehabilitative plan. Though it takes time, most people experience improvements in their pain within a few weeks.
In some cases, spinal injections or nerve blocks are needed.
Though rare, for severe herniated discs that affect mobility or bowel or bladder control, we may recommend spinal decompression surgery. For this procedure, we remove the damaged disc and fuse the vertebral bones together to eliminate the painful movement.
Age-related disc degeneration is the most common cause of a herniated disc. But damaged discs can improve when you have the right care.
If you have neck or back pain from a herniated disc, we can help. We offer all the services you need to support your body’s natural healing process. Call our office in Castro Valley, California, at 510-538-0430 today to request an appointment.