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The spinal column consists of a series of vertebrae (bones) that are stacked upon each other. The cervical spine begins in the neck and is above the thoracic spine, which is above the lumbar spine and sacrum, ending at the coccyx, also known as the tailbone. Between each vertebrae is a disc that cushions bones, protecting them by absorbing shock when completing daily activities that include walking, lifting and twisting. Within each disc are two parts, a soft jelly-like interior and a tough exterior ring. When the interior part is injured or weak, it can protrude out through the exterior ring, causing a herniated, slipped or prolapsed disc, which causes pain and discomfort. Numbness and pain can occur when a herniated disc compresses one of the spinal nerves. Surgery may even be warranted if the case is severe enough.
Disc herniation symptoms are known to appear out of nowhere and can happen when least expected. Worsening of symptoms can be experienced when being active and lessened at rest. Symptoms can vary from little to no pain to severe pain, weakness or numbness. It is reported that most symptoms will dissipate within 6 weeks, even without medical treatment. This is thought to be because the size of the herniated disc is shrunk, reducing inflammatory proteins when the body attacks the herniation.
With age, the exterior ring can become weak, tear or lose some of the interior fluid. Pressure can also cause the exterior ring to bulge, crack or tear. Improper lifting technique, weak muscles, a demanding job with physical labor, a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight can also cause disc herniation. Most people are likely to experience disc herniation between the ages of 35-50 and men are also more likely to experience disc herniation than women. Many herniated discs occur in the lumbar region of the spine and pain can travel down through your buttocks, thighs and calves. This is because a protruded disc can push against a nerve root that is close by or irritate the nerve.
Most cases of herniated discs do not require surgery and can improve on their own. More serious cases may require treatment for disc herniation including initial treatments such as rest, ice or heat, pain medications, muscle relaxants or avoidance of strenuous activity. Should the pain persist, physical therapy, injections, chiropractic care and massage can be used along with initial treatments for a more comprehensive result. Disc herniation treatment will depend on the severity and length of time symptoms have been experienced. After 6 weeks have passed, and other treatments have had little to no success, surgery may be the last remaining option. If severe pain is getting in the way of daily functioning and activities or progressive neurological symptoms such as leg weakness or numbness occur, surgery may be recommended.
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