What Happens to My Disc Herniation?

herniated disc

Back Anatomy

Between the back bones or vertebrae of the spine, there are discs which act as cushions or pillows.  This is true from the head all the way down to the tailbone.  Not only do they act as shock absorbers, but they also create flexibility in the spine.  They are like a jelly donut:  there is a tough outer ring of connective tissue called the annulus and an inside jelly called the nucleus pulposis.

Disc Herniation

Sometimes that outer ring weakens, causing the disc to bulge.  The bulge can be large or small.  The connective tissue fibers in the annulus weaken due to stress and may stretch or break, weakening that part of the disc and allowing it to bulge out.  In more severe cases, the fibers are weakened to the point that a tear or rent is created in the wall of the disc allowing the jelly to leak out.

Sciatica

The bulge or herniation of the disc irritates the nerves that pass by it creating symptoms of sciatica, i.e. back pain with weakness, pain, or numbness down the leg.  A similar phenomenon can occur in the cervical spine causing neck pain and symptoms down the arm.

Treatment

The good news is that disc herniations are often self limiting.  They will heal or get smaller with time.  Just like a cut on your leg, the scab will gradually shrink and dissolve.  This has been shown in medical studies decades ago, initially by a landmark study in 1983 by Dr. H. Weber.

The pain from sciatica caused by a disc herniation is not from the disc hurting but from the irritation and inflammation of the nerve.  That is where medications, physical therapy, and sometimes steroid injections can be helpful in soothing the nerve.  As cited by the Mayo Clinic, disc herniations and their associated symptoms can often be treated successfully without surgery. If you are experiencing sciatica or have a disc herniation, please feel free to contact the office of Frank Y. Wei, M.D., PLLC for further information or a consultation.

 

Author
Frank Y. Wei, M.D.

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