A herniated disc, which is also called a bulging or ruptured disc, is one of the most common causes of lower back pain in adults. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, it occurs most frequently in adults between the ages of 30 and 50. But it can develop in adults of any age for a variety of reasons.
Between each vertebra in your back is a disc. Each disc has a hard outer layer and a gel-like soft internal section. The discs act as a cushion, decrease impact, and help keep the vertebrae in the proper place.
A herniated disc occurs when the soft material inside the disc pushes out through the disc and irritates the surrounding nerves. Although a herniated disc can develop anywhere along the spine, it tends to be most common in the lower back.
A herniated disc can develop due to a sudden injury from bending, pulling, or lifting. Using poor technique when doing these motions along with bad posture increases the likelihood of an injury.
It’s also common for a herniated disc to develop due to overuse, such as repetitive movements over time. Being overweight and sedentary increases a person’s risk of developing a herniated disc during middle age.
Symptoms of a herniated disc may come on all of a sudden or develop gradually. Herniated disc symptoms can become severe and even debilitating in some cases. Symptoms may include:
The pain and numbness from a herniated disc can radiate to other parts of the body. For example, if the herniated disc is in the lower back, pain and associated symptoms may radiate to the thighs, buttocks, and the calves.
A herniated disc can be very uncomfortable and interfere with everything from work to getting a good night’s sleep. The good news is there are several ways to reduce pain. Consider a combination of the following treatments:
Decreasing pressure to the affected area is helpful in reducing pain. Depending on where in the spine the herniated disc is located, there may be several ways to minimize pressure to the disc. For example, avoid sleeping on your stomach or sitting for extended amounts of time. Do not wear high heels or do any type of high impact activities. Use your knees to bend instead of your back and always use good posture.
The first few days after sustaining a herniated disc use ice to decrease inflammation and pain. Place an ice pack on the affected area for 15 minutes several times a day. Ice can still be used several days after the injury if it appears to be providing relief.
After the first few days, consider using moist heat to increase blood flow to the area and reduce muscle spasms. Place a hot compress on the affected area of the spine periodically throughout the day. You can also try other forms of heat and see what provides the most relief. For instance, use adhesive heat wraps or sit in a whirlpool.
Adding a pain-relieving bath bomb to a warm bath might be an effective way to get some relief. Choose a bath bomb that contains a pain-relieving ingredient, such as arnica. Other beneficial ingredients are Epsom salt, chamomile, helichrysum, and willow bark. Fill a tub with warm water that is at a comfortable temperature for you. Add the bath bomb and relax for about 20 to 30 minutes.
While it’s important to avoid activities that increase pain and pressure on the disc, total bed rest is usually not recommended. Instead, certain stretching and strengthening exercises may be helpful in reducing pain. The goal of the exercises is to push the disc away from the nerve root. The specific exercises recommended will often depend on the area of the spine affected. It’s best to talk with your healthcare provider when choosing which exercises to do.
Usually, pain from a herniated disc will slowly improve over several weeks. In most cases, pain should be gone in a few months. If pain from a herniated disc does not appear to be gradually decreasing in a few weeks, additional treatment may be needed. Physical therapy, pelvic traction, and steroid injections are sometimes used to treat a herniated disc. Surgery is usually not needed and tends to be a last resort.
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