What is a Herniated Disc?

The column of bones that makeup the structure of the spinal column are separated by spongy intervertebral discs. These discs are made up of a strong outer band of fibers with a soft gel-like center. A disc becomes herniated or ruptured when the strong outer ring of fibers rupture or tear and the soft center moves into a new position within the limited space of the spinal canal. This displaced disc may create pressure on the spinal cord and/or compress local spinal nerves. Herniation can happen in any area of the spine. Dr. Braxton is a spine specialist that utilizes both conservative and surgical treatment for a herniated disc.

How Herniated Discs Happen?

Normal wear and tear on the spine over time will naturally create some weakness in the spinal discs and patients may notice slight pain during this time. The next stage of progression is when the disc may have a slight bulge resulting in a mild impingement into the spinal canal. The final stage is when the disc completely herniates or ruptures through the outer ring of the disc and spills into the spinal canal. This can be very painful for patients, however, most people feel better after a period of conservative treatment.

What does a Herniated Disc Feel Like?

When a disc herniates or ruptures the soft material from the center of the disc pushes through the ring of the disc and toward the spinal canal. The spinal canal nerves are pressed and pain can result. The pain may range from mild to severe and could be aggravated by motion. Patients may also feel numbness and/or weakness in one or both legs. Muscle spasms, tingling, numbness, burning and pain, knowns as sciatica, may also affect the buttocks, leg or foot. Symptoms related to herniated discs in the neck may include mild to sharp pain between the shoulders or in the neck, and tingling, numbness, or pain into the shoulder, arm, hand or fingers.

How a Herniated Disc is Diagnosed?

To provide a diagnosis, Dr. Braxton will take a full medical history and examine the patient’s back for tenderness; certain leg movement will be assessed to determine the source of pain. Reflexes, muscle strength and ability to walk with ease are also evaluated. An X-ray, CT scan, MRI or nerve study test can also help further evaluate the area.

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What a Herniated Disc Looks Like on an MRI?

A herniated disc is detectable using MRI technology. The scan uses radio frequency waves and a magnetic field to view the soft tissues of the body including the ruptured condition of the soft center of intervertebral discs that have herniated. The MRI image is a three-dimensional rendering of the organic shapes of the spinal column. MRI images provide a clear picture of the spinal injury.

Does a Herniated Disc Heal on Its Own?

Many patients find that conservative treatment and time can improve herniated disc symptoms so that pain lessens, motion and strength return, and patients can return to normal activities. The herniated disc may benefit from the body’s own immune response such that the displaced materials from the disc are reduced in size over time. The absorption of water from inside the rupture lessens the mass of the tissue reducing irritation and pain around the area. Extension exercises, done over time, can also have the benefit of resetting damaged disc material into a position that causes less irritation to spinal nerves.

How to Treat a Herniated Disc?

The majority of herniated disc patients will respond to conservative treatments including rest, medications, cold and hot therapies, physical therapy and epidural injections. If weakness persists and the condition is not improved, surgery may be an option. Dr. Braxton will work closely with each patient regarding the decision to have herniated disc surgery. He uses minimally invasive surgical techniques to correct the protruding parts of the disc to relieve pain and return the patient to their preferred activities.