Friday, January 6, 2012

How a herniated disk develops

Also known as a slipped disk occurs when all or part of the inter vertebral disk's gel-like center extrudes through the disk's weakened or torn outer ring. The pressure on spinal nerve roots or on the spinal cord itself causes back pain and other symptoms of nerve root irritation. Most herniations  affect the lumbosacral spine. The most common site is the L4-L5 disk space.

Lumbar herniation usually develops mostly in men vs. women. They are the result from severe trauma or strain or may be related to joint degeneration. Signs and symptoms to watch out for are:
  1. Severe low back pain which may radiate to buttocks, legs, feet and typically is one-sided
  2. Sudden pain after trauma, subsiding in a few days and then recurring at shorter intervals w/ intensity
  3. Sensory and motor loss in the area where compression has taken place, leg weakness
The gel like center of the disk acts as a shock absorber distributing the mechanical stress applied to the spine when the body moves. Physical stress is usually a twisting motion which will cause the gel like center to tear or rupture allowing the tissue to push through into the spinal canal. This process allows the vertebrae to move closer together as the disk compresses. This, in turn, causes pressure on the nerve roots. This pressure is what the individual experiences as pain.

There are several treatment options:
  1. Bed rest w/ possibly pelvic traction, heat and ice application, passive exercise
  2. NSAIDS and muscle relaxants to reduce inflammation and edema at the injured site
  3. Surgical options
Which ever treatment plan your doctor prescribes for you, it is best to follow his/her advice and rest your low back as much as possible heeding caution to avoid additional external stress on your lumbar region. Give yourself adequate time to recover. Chances of re-injuring the site are great once your in the healing stages.

Good health,
Trisha M. Pacenti RN,BSN