Slip disc / Disc herniation

The spine is made up of cylindrical bones called vertebrae. The disks are protective shock-absorbing pads between the bones of the spine (vertebrae). Between the bones of the spine are small discs made of a thick layer of cartilage on the outside and a soft and jelly-like material on the inside. The discs act to absorb shocks caused when the spine moves, and they allow the spine to bend.

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves running through the canal within the spinal column. It carries messages to and from the brain via nerve roots that branch out to the body along the length of the spinal cord. The nerves exit the spine through small openings on each side; these are called foramens (singular foramen; foramina is also used for the plural), after the Latin word for "window."

If a foramen becomes narrowed by arthritis or a bulging disc, pressure on the nerve can cause numbness and pain, and even muscle weakness if severe enough. A herniated, prolapsed, or ruptured disc happens when the inner material bulges or bursts through the outer lining of cartilage and puts pressure on or damages the spinal nerves or the spinal cord.

Herniated discs can occur in any part of the spine, but they are most common in the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar section of the spine).  The disks of the spine are also referred to as intervertebral disks. Although they do not actually "slip," a disk may move, split, or rupture. This can cause the disk cartilage and nearby tissue to fail (herniate), allowing the inner gel portion of the disk to escape into the surrounding tissue. This leaking jelly-like substance can place pressure on the spinal cord or on an adjacent nerve to cause symptoms of pain, numbness, or weakness either around the damaged disk or anywhere along the area supplied by that nerve.

The layman's term "slipped disk" is, therefore, a misnomer and actually refers to a condition whereby portions of an abnormal, injured, or degenerated disk have protruded against adjacent nerve tissues. This condition is also known as a herniated disk, ruptured disk, or prolapsed disk. The most frequently affected area is in the low back, but any disk can rupture, including those in the neck.

Causes of Slip / Herniated Disc:

With age, the discs in the spine become less flexible, which increases the risk of injury. Other things that can increase the risk of a herniated disc include an injury such as a fall, repeated straining, improper lifting, excessive body weight, and smoking.

When a disc is herniated, the soft material inside the disc comes through the outer lining of cartilage. Normally there is some space between the discs and the spinal column. But, when the herniated disc presses on a spinal nerve, this leads to symptoms of pain, numbness, and weakness.

Symptoms and Complications :

When a herniated disc presses on spinal nerves, symptoms can include pain, loss of feeling, tingling, or muscle weakness. The amount of pressure the herniated disc puts on the spinal nerves determines how bad the symptoms will be. Coughing, laughing, sneezing, urinating, or straining while defecating make the pain of a herniated disc worse.

Most herniated discs problems happen in the lower back and cause back and leg pain. Intense pain that radiates down from the disc through the buttocks and down the leg to the foot is called sciatica. Intense pain below the knee is usually a sign of a herniated disc, since other back conditions don't usually cause pain below the knee. A herniated disc in the lower back can cause weakness and numbness in the legs and trouble lifting the front of your foot off the ground.

Herniated discs also occur in the neck (cervical spine). They can cause pain in one arm, beginning with the armpit and upper shoulder blade and travelling down the arm to one or two fingers. The pain can also be felt in the upper middle back and can be mistaken for other conditions. Arm muscles can weaken and can cause shooting pain or numbness making it hard to move the fingers.

Pressure on nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord can cause loss of bladder or bowel control, both of which are signs of very severe nerve pressure.

Rarely, a ruptured disc in the neck can cause complete paralysis.

Having surgery is a huge decision and should not even be considered until you have tried all the other measures.

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