Cervical & Lumbar Disc Herniation

Lumbar disc herniation

Cervical and Lumbar Disc Herniation

The bones that form the spine, known as vertebrae, are cushioned by small spongy discs that lie in between each vertebra. The discs are composed of a soft gel-like center and a tough outer lining. When you have healthy discs, they act as shock absorbers for the spine and keep it flexible. If the outer lining that surrounds the disc tears, the gel-like material inside can squeeze out through the opening. Damaged discs may bulge or tear open which may be referred to as slipped, ruptured or herniated disc.

Causes of Herniated Discs

Herniated discs can occur in any part of your spine; however, they are most likely to occur in the cervical spine or lumbar spine. The causes of herniated discs include:

  • Wear and tear on the disc with age
  • Injury to spine such as a car accident, incorrect heavy lifting or extreme twisting  
  • Combination of degeneration and injury  

Symptoms of Herniated Discs in Cervical Spine

The cervical spine refers to the neck and a herniated disc in the neck will causes symptoms when the disc is pressing on a nerve. The herniated disc may cause the following symptoms:

  • Neck pain 
  • Radiating arm pain 
  • Shoulder pain
  • Numbness in arm
  • Tingling in arm or hand

The pain may vary from dull and aching to a sharp localized pain that is easy to pinpoint. If you are exhibiting muscle weakness with these symptoms, your condition may indicate a more serious problem and you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Herniated Discs in Lumbar Spine

A herniated disc of the lumbar spine refers to the lower back. Symptoms occur when the herniation is pressing on a nerve that supplies the lower part of your body. A herniated disc of the lumbar spine may cause the following symptoms:

  • Ache in the low back
  • Pain that travels through the buttock and down the leg to the foot as a result of pressure on the sciatic nerve
  • Tingling or a pins and needles sensation in one leg that can begin in the buttock and extend to the knee or lower
  • Severe deep muscle pain and muscle spasms
  • Weakness in certain muscles in one or both legs
  • Pain may be referred to the groin area of your pelvis
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control may happen in serious cases of nerve compression
  • Loss of reflexes in one or both legs

Where these symptoms occur in your lower extremities depends on which nerve or nerves have been affected by the herniation. Location of your symptoms will help guide the diagnosis.

Diagnosing Cervical and Lumbar Disc Herniation

Properly diagnosing a disc herniation is critical to get you the treatment you need to get back into action. The first treatment measure your doctor may suggest is taking X-rays of your lower back. Herniated discs do not show up on regular X-rays, however they will give your doctor an idea of how much wear and tear is present in the spine and may show other causes of your problem.

The most common test done today to diagnose a herniated disc is the MRI scan. This test is painless and very accurate. There are no known side effects of the MRI scan. MRI scans produce very accurate detailed images that will allow your doctor to see the herniation as well as grade its severity. An MRI scan is an excellent tool which provides baseline information about your condition. It is an excellent reference in case your symptoms worsen over time.

Conservative Treatment for Cervical and Lumbar Disc Herniation

At Harron Neurosurgery, we prefer to use a conservative treatment plan to restore the health and function of your herniated disc. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, Dr. Harron may suggest watching and waiting or an observation period. During this time, if your pain is bearable and your symptoms do not progress, modifying your activity to include rest and stretching may be all that is needed to alleviate your pain and get you back in action. After a reasonable time off from daily exercise or activities, you can gradually work up to more mobilization. The more closely you follow your doctor’s instructions, the more positive outcome you will experience.

When pain is moderate and very limiting to your daily activities, the next option is to treat the pain with a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or an NSAID. Your doctor may prescribe you an NSAID or recommend an over-the-counter NSAID to take for a few days to decrease your pain level. It is very important to follow your doctor’s instructions when taking any medication.

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