Herniated Disc Q&A

What is a Herniated Disc?

Herniated discs refer to damage that occurs to the outer layer of a spinal disc, causing the internal gel to bulge or leak out of the disc. This puts pressure on the nerve root causing pain. Herniated discs can occur anywhere in the spine but are most commonly found in the lower lumbar region of the spine or the neck. The signs and symptoms of a herniated disk can be pain in the legs or arms, numbness or tingling, and weakness in the muscles. Some herniated discs can show no signs only to show up in a scan of the spine later on.

What Causes a Herniated Disc?

Disc herniation is most often caused by disc degeneration, a gradual, age-related wear and tear to the discs of the spine. As you age, those discs lose some of their water content making them less flexible and more prone to damage, such as rupturing, with even a minor strain. Herniated discs are rarely the result of a traumatic event, but more likely are caused by lifting heavy objects with improper form or twisting sharply. Other factors that can increase your risk of a herniation are excess body weight which causes stress on the low back or an inherited genetic disorder.

How are herniated discs diagnosed?

In order to make a proper diagnosis for herniated disks, your doctor will conduct a physical exam to test certain body functions. Your doctor will look for tenderness upon palpation and have you perform specific range of motion exercises to look for pain with movement. Since injuries at different disc levels cause a variety of symptoms, your doctor will also ask if you have been experiencing numbness and tingling in certain distributions. In addition, he or she will look for signs of compromised reflexes.

The doctor may have to perform a neurological exam in order to check your:

  • Muscle strength
  • Ability to walk
  • Reflexes
  • Reactions to touches, vibrations and pinpricks

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may suggest further imaging to definitely diagnose disc herniation.
Below are a few standard types of imaging studies used to diagnose herniated discs:

  • X-Rays – Although they cannot definitely diagnose a disc herniation,x-rays can detect other causes of back pain like tumors, infections and broken bones.
  • CT Scan – Similar to a standard x-ray, this type of imaging allows for multiple views from various directions and positions to look for and identify potential disc herniations.
  • MRI – An MRI waves uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create images of the internal structures of your body. MRI is used most commonly when disc herniation is suspected.

What are the stages of disc herniation?

The lower back, or lumbar region, is where most people suffer disc herniations. We put a tremendous amount of pressure on our lower backs daily, so it’s important to seek treatment immediately if you develop pain or other symptoms of herniation.

As we get older, the discs in between the various spinal levels begin to dry out. As such, the frequency of disc herniation is significantly higher when compared to someone in their teens or twenties. However, depending on the cause, people of any age can suffer a disc herniation.

The four stages of disc herniation include:

  • Disc Degeneration
  • Prolapse
  • Extrusion
  • Sequestration

Mild disc degeneration usually presents as mild pain and stiffness. As the disc continues to protrude, the symptoms may become more painful. Severe disc herniations can cause cauda equina, a condition which can cause loss of bowel and bladder function and partial or complete paralysis.

Back pain that lasts longer than a few days warrants an examination and diagnosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with a disc herniation and are wondering if chiropractic care is an option, we are here to help. Call 703-370-5300 to schedule a consultation today.

What Treatments Are Available?

At Virginia Family Chiropractic, Dr. Hatam and Dr. Cassou use the latest FDA approved deep tissue lasers, which are painless, without any side effect, along with the use of a decompression table for the best results.