Eating a jelly donut can turn into a sticky situation. If the jelly squirts out through the donut’s exterior when you take a bite, you’ve got a mess on your hands. Well, believe it or not, a herniated disk, also referred to as a slipped or ruptured disk, is a similar circumstance! A jelly donut, with its soft center encased in a tougher exterior, is composed much like the disks that serve as cushions between the vertebrae that make up our spine. Disk herniation occurs when the soft “jelly” inside the disk pushes through a crack in its tough exterior, irritating surrounding nerves and often resulting in pain.
The Risks for Slipped Disks
One of the main reasons for a disk to herniate is the spine’s natural degeneration with age. Our disks start out with a high water content, but as we get older, they dry and weaken, narrowing the spaces between our vertebrae. Besides the gradual wear and tear of getting older, other risk factors include improperly lifting a heavy object (using your back instead of your legs), being overweight, repetitive actions that cause strain on your spine, and staying seated for extended periods of time, like on a long car ride, for instance. Leading a sedentary life overall, as well as smoking, can also contribute to the condition.
The Signs of Affected Spines
You can actually have a herniated disk without even knowing it, since you may not have any symptoms. However, depending on the extent of which the nerves are affected, the condition can be painful. It typically occurs in your lower back, lumbar spine, and at times in your neck or cervical spine. Symptoms can range from lower back pain, to numbness and tingling, to weakness and pain that extends into the leg and even the foot.
The Diagnosis and Prognosis
Imaging tests will likely be used to confirm the diagnosis of disk herniation so that treatment can begin. It is rare for surgery to be performed—conservative measures are usually all that is needed. Resting is essential to a speedier recovery, so avoid any movements that trigger the pain. Anti-inflammatory medications, and sometimes corticosteroid injections, can help to ease discomfort. Physical therapy can aid in strengthening muscles and relieving pain as well.
Dr. Jennifer Molner of Castle Pines Physical Therapy can show you stretches and help you develop an exercise regimen. She may utilize heat or ice techniques, traction, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation. You will see a slow improvement over several days to weeks, with a full recovery typically taking several months. Maintaining a healthy weight and being mindful of good posture can also help the process along.
For more information on herniated disks, feel free to give us a call at (303) 805-5156, or visit us in Castle Pines, CO. When you make an appointment at Castle Pines Physical Therapy, you are taking the first step toward recovery, and returning to your activities pain-free. Make an appointment with Dr. Jennifer Molner today!