Your vertebral discs are the shock absorbers of your spine. If one of them herniates — also known as a slipped or ruptured disc — you may not notice anything at all, or you could be in a great deal of pain if the disc impinges on a nearby nerve.
At Apex Spine and Neurosurgery, with locations in Roswell, Alpharetta, and Bethlehem, Georgia, our expert team of neurosurgeons is passionate about your spinal health. If you’re struggling with the pain and discomfort of a herniated disc, our goal is to bring you relief.
We start with conservative options, but if these aren’t working for you, we offer minimally invasive surgery to repair or remove the damaged portions of the disc. Here’s what you need to know about your herniated discs and the procedures we use to treat them.
Spinal disc basics
In between the moveable bones (vertebrae) in your spine are the spinal discs, which cushion the vertebrae, prevent them from rubbing against each other, and allow you to twist and bend.
Discs are both tough and spongy. The outer layer, called the annulus fibrosus, is hard, while the gel-like center, called the nucleus pulposus, is soft. Each disc is attached to the vertebrae above and below in order to stay in place.
But sometimes trauma, wear and tear, or fluid loss due to aging can cause the outer layer of a disc to rupture. Then the gel-like center “leaks” out and presses against the nerve roots, which causes your symptoms.
Herniated disc symptoms
Herniated discs are most common in the lower back and neck (the lumbar and cervical spine, respectively). When the herniation affects nearby nerves, the pain can be severe and unrelenting, usually felt on one side of the body, and possibly radiating into an arm or leg. Sciatica is an example of radiated pain from herniation of the L4-L5 disc in the lower back.
Symptoms you may experience with a herniated disc include:
- Pain when you cough or sneeze
- Pain in certain positions
- Inability to remain in one position for long due to pain
- Numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in the back and limbs
- Muscle weakness or spasm that affects ability to lift or hold items
- Balance issues or limping from weakness and/or pain
- Slow reflexes
- Difficulty getting up from a sitting position
- Poor posture
A rare symptom is the loss of bowel or bladder control, which can indicate cauda equina syndrome, a medical emergency.
Herniated disc treatments
Herniated discs are usually diagnosed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. Most people respond to conservative treatments, including pain medications, physical therapy, and epidural steroid injections that reduce inflammation.
Lifestyle changes may help, too, such as:
- Losing weight: excess weight worsens spinal compression
- Quitting smoking: smoking is a major risk for degenerative disc disease, especially in the lower back and neck
- Doing low-impact exercise: not exercising leads to more muscle stiffness and weakness
- Doing core exercises: strengthen your core-muscle support in your abdomen and lower back
If you need surgical intervention, a microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that can take pressure off your nerves and relieve your back pain.
During a microdiscectomy, we remove the part of your herniated disc that's putting pressure on your nerve. The procedure is performed using small incisions, tiny instruments, and a miniaturized camera which allows your surgeon to visualize the problem area.
With a microdiscectomy, we remove only the small part of your disc that’s problematic, unlike a regular discectomy, where the surgeon may remove the entire disc. Most microdiscectomies take about an hour from start to finish, and recovery takes only about two weeks.
If you’re struggling with back pain along with radiating pain, it’s a good bet that you have a herniated disc. Give Apex Spine and Neurosurgery a call at any of our offices to set up a consultation with one of our neurosurgeons, or book your appointment online.