An individual’s backbone or spine consists of 26 bones called vertebrae. Between every two vertebrae are soft disks that contain a viscous substance and these discs keep the vertebrae intact. Just like our bones, these discs degenerate or break as a person ages. The discs also lose their cushioning property resulting in pain whenever the back is stressed.
A herniated disc is one that cracks leading to the viscous substance in the disc to spill and affect the nearby nerves. This can cause pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg. But in some people, none of these symptoms exist and most of the time this problem can be treated without the need for any surgery.
Whenever the disc presses a nerve the individual experiences pain on one side of the body. The exact location of pain depends on the location of the herniated disc.
When there is a disc slip in the cervical section of the spine, it leads to pain in the neck and arms. You would experience pain moving your neck, near the shoulder blade, stinging pain down the arm and into the fingers along with a feeling of numbness in the shoulder, elbow, forearm or fingers.
A disc slip in the lumbar section of the spine results in pain (commonly known as sciatica as it pushes on the sciatic nerve) in the back and legs. This causes pain or numbness in the leg, hip, buttocks, calf or sole of the foot and weakness in either leg.
Intensity of the symptoms depends on your activity levels. Too much strain can cause greater pain from a herniated disc while resting can decrease its impact. Actions such as coughing, sneezing, sitting, driving or bending forward can worsen the pain as pressure is exerted on the nerve.
Growing older brings a lot of health issues along with it. The disks in the spine grow old and become weaker. Other causes for a herniated disc include lifting heavy objects, being overweight, being middle-aged or above middle age, doing actions that involve repetitive bending or twisting, sitting in the same position for a very long time, sedentary lifestyle and smoking.
Although there is nothing that can be done from our side to prevent a herniated disc as it comes with age, it can be delayed by living a healthy lifestyle. Stay on a healthy weight, exercise regularly, do back-strengthening exercises, don’t repeat one single movement (bending, for instance) repetitively, stand up and walk around every hour when you sit for long hours at work and adhere to safe lifting and bending techniques. Visit the website www.firsteatright.com to get in touch with a registered dietitian nutritionist who can help you start living a healthy lifestyle.
Physical therapy, steroid injections, surgery and precautionary measures are some options that can help cure a herniated disk. Although most people affected with this problem get better in 4 weeks’ time, it is advisable to visit your doctor if it prolongs beyond that.
Dietitian Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.