Spinal Disc Herniation Details

Spinal discs are the soft cushions in between the vertebrae of the spine that provide stability as well as act as shock absorbers. A herniated, or slipped, disc occurs when the disc ruptures and pushes the soft innards of the disc through the tougher exterior and places pressure on nerves as well as the spinal cord; A disc herniation will often occur in the lower spine but can also occur in the neck. This can cause back pain, discomfort, and/or numbness in the extremities. However, it is often the case that patients may not experience any symptoms at all. Usually a herniated disk does not require surgery to fix the problem.  A herniated disc can be caused by general wear and tear as a result of aging or disc degeneration. Weight, genetics, and physically strenuous occupations are common risk factors.   

Before Spinal Disc Herniation

In cases that are noticeable, pain is the most prominent symptom of a herniated disc. If the disc in question is located in the lower back, the pain may present in the leg, hip, or buttocks. This pain may also be accompanied with numbness and weakness.  A herniated disk in the neck will result in the same symptoms in the neck, shoulder blades, arms, and fingers.  Often times, these symptoms will only occur on one side of the body.  Patient’s experiencing these symptoms should consult a doctor and undergo diagnostic tests and exams to assess whether a herniated disc is the issue.  Imaging techniques will be used to determine the location and size of the herniation.

Treatments for a herniated disk include taking anti-inflammatory medications, narcotics for the pain, and muscle relaxants to alleviate any muscle spasms. It may also be advised that the patient undergo positive lifestyle changes that could relieve symptoms. This may include increasing frequency of exercise and changing the patient’s diet. In cases that result in severe pain, steroid medicine injection to the back may be necessary. These injections are able to bring down swelling and alleviate pain around the injection site. In the most severe cases, a discectomy (removal of all or part of a disc), may be appropriate.       

How it is performed

Administration of anti-inflammatory medications and narcotics are fairly simple. They are often administered orally. The patient’s doctor will determine the dosage and schedule. The steroid medicine injection is administered into the fluid-filled space around the spinal cord via a needle. X-ray images are used to guide the administration of the medication. The procedure is mostly painless.A discectomy surgery involves making a long incision in the back of the body to visualize the spine and then removing part or all of the offending disk.  Patients are put under general anesthesia during the process. Afterwards, the incision is sutured.   

Recovery

The steroid medication injection is an outpatient procedure meaning that the patient will be able to leave the hospital as soon as the injection is complete. The patient may be advised to rest for the duration of the day; the injection may take up to 3 days for it to take effect.  This treatment is only for temporary pain relief.A discectomy has a relatively short recovery time and mostly consists of managing pain, numbness, and weakness for a few weeks following the procedure. 

Potential Risks

Risks associated with the steroid injection include bleeding around the spinal cord, allergic reaction to the injection, possible infection, possible nerve damage, dizziness, headache, and nausea.Discectomies are usually regarded as very effective and safe procedures but they can sometimes result in adverse side effects and risks depending on the age and health of the patient. These include infection, excess bleeding, possibly clotting, nerve injury, rejection of the bone graft, and damage to surrounding bone. There is also a risk of lingering pain in the region of interest. This may result in additional spinal surgery being necessary. 

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