For those in their 30s to 50s, about 2 in every 100 will experience a herniated disc in their spines, with men twice as likely to have one than women. Discs between vertebrae act as your body’s shock absorbers, cushioning the thousands of little impacts your body undergoes every day. It’s quite common for these discs to rupture, and it’s possible that a disc can rupture and heal without causing you any pain.
However, when the bulge that accompanies a ruptured disc irritate nerves in your spine, pain can result. While about 85% of cases involving a ruptured disc will heal naturally, it may take up to three months, and some patients move into the realm of chronic pain when symptoms persist past 12 weeks.
Spinal discs have a construction that’s much like a jelly donut. There’s a tough outer shell called the annulus fibrosus and a more viscous center “filling” called the nucleus pulposus. A herniated disc occurs when the filling breaks through a weak spot in the outer shell. This results in the bulge that may contact and irritate nerves passing through the spine.
As you get older, the tissue of your spinal disks tends to deteriorate, just like other tissues in your body. They can become dry and brittle and when weak spots develop, you’re more likely to experience a disc herniation. The location of the herniation determines where you feel pain.
The most common site of disc rupture is the lower back in the region called the lumbar spine, but it’s also occurs in the neck (cervical spine) for some people. Lumbar disc herniations usually cause pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and sometimes even extending to the feet. Usually, only one side is affected, but in rare cases you may experience pain on both sides.
Cervical disc herniation produces symptoms in your shoulders and arms. Occasionally, pain may seem to originate near the site of the disc rupture itself, but referred pain – pain that you feel along the nerve path downstream of the rupture – is very common.
Not all effects of nerve irritation are painful, but when it occurs, it’s often described as shooting, electrical, or burning pain. You may have an ongoing deep, duller pain that’s with you all the time, interspersed with sharp, stabbing episodes when you move a certain way.
You may also feel numbness, where touch sensations aren’t normal. Muscle weakness may also occur when nerves responsible for motor functions suffer the effects of a herniated disc. In some rare cases, autonomic nerves, responsible for automatic body functions, can be affected. For example, the cauda equina nerves are responsible for muscles that control bladder and bowel function, and in rare cases, these may be affected by disc rupture.
Pain resulting from herniated discs can be complex and difficult to treat. Dr. Wu and the pain management specialists as his practice in Torrance, California, can help develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. Call the office or click today to book a personal consultation.