There is a disc like cushion between each of the multiple vertebrae that make up our spine. These discs can rupture which allows the substance within them to leak out. Such a scenario is known as a herniated disc or slipped disc.
The symptoms of a herniated disc include weakness, tingling, pain as well as numbness in an arm or leg due to the damage to the nerves that are responsible for those areas. The most common area to have pain is in the lower part of your body because most herniated discs occur in the lumbar spine which can pinch the sciatic nerve which runs along the side of your legs as well as buttocks although it is also possible to have a herniated disc in the cervical spine (the neck).
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However there are some people who don’t experience any symptoms from their herniated disk other than local pain. It is even possible to have a herniated disc without knowing it at all.
Your doctor can diagnose a herniated disc through physical exams, imaging tests and nerve tests as well.
In the physical exam, your back will be checked for points of soreness. Your doctor may also have you lie down and make different movements with your legs which will help determine the cause of your pain. You may also undergo various tests aimed at identifying your reactions:
• Sensitivity to stimuli
• Muscle strength
• Ability to perform specific movements
Generally, the physical exam is comprehensive enough to arrive at a diagnosis. However if your doctor needs to see which of the nerves are affected, one or more of the following tests may be conducted
• Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Used to create and display images of the internal structures of your body. It is used to pinpoint the location of the herniated disk as well as to see which nerves are affected.
• X-rays or CT scans – This would be used to ensure that there are no other causes of your back pain such as a fracture, spinal alignment issue or even a tumour.
• Myelogram – An interesting test which involves dye being injected into the spinal fluid. X-rays are then taken to display the pressure on the regions of your spine or nerves due to the herniated disk or discs.
• Nerve tests used to study how well the electrical impulses are being conducted along the nerves. This is used to locate where the nerve damage has taken place
Treatment options for a herniated disc are fairly straightforward and involve a lot of rest coupled with medication intended to ease pain as well as electric stimulation, heat or ice and multiple other methods to help recovery. In some severe cases the patient will need to be admitted for surgery if the pain doesn’t reduce at all and there is a considerable loss of function.