Spinal Disc Herniation Issues

Spinal discs, or intervertebral discs, are ring-like pads situated between the bones or vertebrae of our spinal column, protecting those bones from rubbing against each other. Each disc is made up of an outer, fibrous membrane called the annulus fibrosus, which houses the soft, inner core called the nucleus pulposus. When the nucleus pulposus protrudes due to a tear in the annulus fibrosus, it is termed as spinal disc herniation.

Though spinal disc injury can be a result of trauma or unknown causes, disc generation as a result of aging is the major cause of this medical condition. The wear and tear that these discs undergo due to the normal aging process renders the spine to become less flexible. Activities which alter the spine’s alignment, such as sitting and lifting, can increase the internal pressure within the discs and cause damage. In most occasions, a disc herniation occurs when lifting a heavy object while the body is bent at the waist.

Symptoms of spinal disc injury depend on the location and severity of the herniation. Some people may be asymptomatic or show only minor discomforts even with the presence of injury. The disc injury itself is seldom painful, however, when a large portion of the nucleus pulposus protrudes, it can irritate the surrounding nerve endings, which in turn causes an excruciating, debilitating pain. Other symptoms may include weakness, numbness and tingling sensation, paralysis, abnormal reflexes, and bladder and bowel incontinence, which is a severe manifestation of cauda equina syndrome, a condition when both sides of the body are affected during a spinal disc injury. Physical exams and imaging tests such as X-Ray, MRI, CT Scan, and Electromyelogram are conducted to support the diagnosis of spinal disc injury.

The pain from spinal disc injury can hinder performance of activities of daily living, and thus can affect an individual’s sense of function. To reduce the agony, the simplest pain relief measures include Non- Steroidal Anti- Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID’s), muscle relaxants, and oral corticosteroids. In some instances, epidural steroid injection is performed, a procedure wherein cortisone is injected into the spine at the site of injury. Supportive measures such as physical therapy and traction are also used to correct mechanical factors and decrease internal pressure within the discs.
In severe cases when neurological function is affected, especially with the presence of cauda equina syndrome, a surgical procedure called spinal decompression may be required. There are two types of spinal decompression, namely microdiscectomy and laminectomy. While microdiscectomy involves removal of a herniated nucleus pulposus by means of laser or a surgical instrument, laminectomy involves removal of a vertebral arch to relieve pressure on affected nerves. This is a last resort and should be done when non- invasive procedures have failed to relieve the pain.

To further minimize the occurrence of spinal disc injury, it is advised to observe proper body mechanics, especially when lifting heavy objects. Instead of bending at the waist, the person should bend the legs for support while keeping the back straight. Good posture should be maintained at all times and regular exercise should be performed to prolong one’s flexibility. In addition, weight control is also recommended to avoid too much pressure on the spine.