Vertebral discs are part of the spine. The spine is comprised of bones known as vertebra, that make up the spinal column, which protects nerves that make up the spinal cord. Discs positioned between each of the vertebra act as cushions or sponges that behave like shock absorbers and enable humans to twist, bend, and rotate. Any time these cushioned discs are injured or diseased, the vertebra may rub against each other, or nerves may be pinched, causing pain, limited motion and difficulty moving. Damaged discs often bulge or tear, which results in what is called a herniated disc. Herniated discs are also commonly known as ruptured or slipped discs.
Most people experience herniated discs in the lower back or lumbar area of the spine, but they can occur in the neck area (cervical) and sometimes even in the upper back (thoracic) area of the spine. Herniated discs are often caused by wear and tear, injury, pinched nerves, and from constant, repetitive or poor lifting techniques.
Treatments for herniated discs will depend on the type of injury and symptoms produced. Often, herniated discs increase pressure on nerves, causing numbness, weakness and pain along the path of the nerve. Sciatica is a very common result of herniated discs that may cause lower back pain, as well as numbness and pain not only in the buttocks, but along the length of the entire leg. Sometimes, herniated discs may be present, but not pressing on nerves, which may not cause pain in a localized area, but might cause frequent headaches. In some severe cases, herniated discs cause individuals difficulty walking, as well as a lack of bowel or bladder control.
In most cases, herniated discs heal on their own within about six months. However, for herniated discs that are not relieved through rest, heat, exercises or medications, individuals may face surgery. Several common surgical procedures that treat herniated discs include:
Laminectomy or laminotomy are common procedures performed to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. In many cases, aging of the spinal structure causes of thinning of the vertebra, especially the portion called the lamina, which protects the spinal cord. A laminectomy removes this lamina and also is used to address thickening tissue that narrows the spinal canal and causes compression of spinal nerves.
A discectomy involves the removal of herniated disc tissues that press on nerves or other portions of spinal cord. This type of procedure is very effective for individuals who have tried other options without relief and who experience and suffer from severe pain and difficulty walking, sitting, and other basic movements.
A percutaneous disectomy is generally used to treat bulging discs, or ruptured discs that bulge into the spinal canal area. This type of procedure is generally performed through a small tube inserted through a very small incision in the back over the affected area. Tissues from the herniated disc are removed and allow more room for nerves. This surgical procedure is not commonly used, as traditional discectomy procedures to date are more effective.
Individuals suffering from lack of response to nonsurgical techniques to provide pain relief and increased mobility are the best candidates for herniated disc surgeries. However, physicians will take into consideration overall health, age, severity of symptoms, and how those symptoms impact quality of life. Only about 10% of individuals with diagnosed disc hernias need invasive surgery, but the benefits offer increased mobility, pain relief and improved quality of life.
Disc hernia surgery may be performed by orthopedic surgeons who specialize in spinal surgeries, treatments and procedures. As with any other medical field, surgeons should be chosen according to their expertise and experience in related fields. Physicians and surgeons should be certified in their field, and show membership in national or regional boards or associations in his or her country of origin. Whenever possible, consumers are encouraged to get more than one opinion before engaging in any type of spinal surgery, as well as making sure that facilities, surgeons, and healthcare staff are accredited by international associations and organizations to ensure quality of equipment, technology, as well as quality of care by medical staff.
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