What Is a Herniated Disc?
The bones that form the spine are cushioned by small discs. These discs act as shock absorbers for the spine and help keep the spine flexible. When a disc is damaged, it may rupture and swell. The material from inside the disc extrudes and can press against nerves producing pain in the back, neck or legs. Doctors refer to this painful condition as a herniated disc.
When a herniated disc presses on a nerve, it can cause occasional or constant numbness, weakness and pain in the back and any area of the body where the impinged nerve travels. Herniated discs are often not diagnosed immediately and can be a lifelong problem.
What Causes Spinal Disc Injuries?
A spinal disc can become herniated through wear and tear or an injury to the spine. Common causes of a herniated disc include activities that may stress the lower back, including sports-related injuries, repetitive stress from actions performed at work, and traffic accidents.
Herniated disc injuries often occur in car crashes and truck wrecks. An accident does not have to be severe to damage a disc in your back. When a collision happens, the stress put on the spine can tear the annulus, which is the outer layer of a disc. Many insurance companies try to convince people that a back or neck injuries resulting from an accident is always minor. Often, however, the a crash victim's neck or back pain results from the herniation of disc.
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Railroad workers have particularly high risks for suffering back injuries on the job. Incidents that can endanger railroad workers and cause herniated discs include lifting heavy objects; twisting and bending repeatedly, which stresses the body and spine; falling from a train car; or being involved in a collision.
What Is the Treatment for Herniated Discs?
A herniated disc injury does not require surgery unless there are signs of neurological malfunction in the muscles or radiating pain that does not ease up. If the back pain has not gone away after 6 weeks of nonsurgical treatment such as anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture or chiropractic adjustments, the next option is surgery.
One particular surgery, laminectomy, involves removing the back part, or lamina, of the vertebra closest to the herniated disc to expose the spinal canal. This procedure relieves pressure on the spinal cord and other nerves. Another kind of surgery is a spinal fusion in which one of more vertebrae are connected with a clamplike device so the bones can no longer move. Bone grafts, plates and screws are placed around the vertebrae during fusion surgery.
Even if the injury does not require surgery, a herniated disc, especially one resulting from a preventable injury caused by someone else, can be a financial burden. The cost of laser therapy for the initial injury and subsequent flare-ups, for instance, can prove too expensive to pay for over many months and years. Herniated discs can also make it impossible for people to work. Some jobs require lifting and demands that cannot be done with a bad back.