How to Tell If Your Pain Is From a Herniated Disc

How to Tell If Your Pain Is From a Herniated Disc

Between each pair of vertebrae (bones) in your neck and back sits a tough but pliable disc that acts as a spacer and shock absorber that keeps your spine cushioned and flexible. With tough outer layers surrounding a softer filling, these discs are often compared to jelly donuts.

When damaged, these discs have many informal names, including ruptured, slipped, or bulging, but the medical description is herniated disc. The soft center breaks through the outer shell due to injury, degeneration, or a combination of both. 

Although disc damage itself can generate pain, more often than not, given the intricate and tight confines of the spinal column, the herniated disc puts pressure on a nerve. This can cause burning pain that travels down your arm or leg. 

Pain from disc herniation can be tough to pinpoint. When you need help with medical pain management, contact Dr. Franz Jones, DO, and his team of experts who specialize in herniated disc treatment. The good news is that most disc problems resolve with time and conservative care. 

What happens when a disc ruptures?

As you get older, your body begins to lose its naturally youthful tissue. This is often noticeable in the skin, which dries out and sags. Loss of moisture and suppleness happens elsewhere in the body, too. Intervertebral discs are no exception. As the outer layer experiences aging, it loses flexibility and becomes more likely to split or tear. These tears can be seen on MRI and are often referred to as fissures.

The inner gel can then escape through an opening. This often creates no symptoms at all, and you may not know when a disc herniation happens. If this escaping gel compresses or irritates nerve tissue, though, you could experience a range of symptoms including pain at the site of compression or anywhere along the nerve’s path. 

Identifying herniated disc pain

Spinal discs aren’t well-supplied with nerve tissue, but there are sensory nerves that respond directly to herniation. Most of these nerves are located at the back of the disc, where ruptures are most likely. 

When the herniation affects nerves beyond the disc, symptoms may be more difficult to connect with a disc problem. There are usually clues in your pain that can help guide diagnosis. 

Referred pain

Anyone who’s experienced sciatica knows how referred pain works, and it’s also common with disc herniations. Not only is pain possible at the point of nerve compression, but numbness, tingling, or pain can also occur further along the sciatic nerve. The path moves through your buttock, along the outside of your thigh, and down into your feet. 

Pain from certain movements

Your pain may exist as a dull ache that intensifies into sudden, stabbing pain with activities or movements. These include: 

While it may feel as though some of these movements caused the disc herniation, it’s often difficult or impossible to positively identify when the original injury occurred. 

Pain while sitting

When you need a rest or if you suffer an injury, your first urge is often to sit. When you have a disc herniation in your lower back, however, the act of sitting can cause pain because it increases the load on your lower spinal discs. The herniated bulge may press out further, bringing a fresh wave of pain.

Getting help for your disc pain

While pain from a herniated disc may resolve in six weeks or less even without treatment, that means living with the discomfort in the meantime. Consulting with Dr. Jones can break the pain cycle.

Dr. Jones offers traditional and cutting-edge treatments, including corticosteroid injections, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), platelet-rich plasma (PRP), and stem cell therapy. To find out more, contact the most convenient office by phone or online to schedule your appointment today.

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